By Frank Spano, Managing Director; Bianca Holtier Coury, Project Purchasing Agent; and Susan Riffle, Commuications Specialist of The Austin Company
There is an interesting and dynamic shift occurring within the aerospace industry as it relates to integrating the workforce and communities at the local level. By way of innovative techniques, along with suitable grants, assistance and training programs, the atmosphere is ripe for launching a successful campaign to support the expanding needs of a dramatically growing vertical marketplace. Boost local economic development by tending to the workforce needs of the multi-faceted aerospace industry.
Assessing the challenges that exist today has led to identifying opportunities that will positively influence communities and aerospace companies. Through a combination of educational institutions, workforce development and talent-recruiting efforts, the results can have lasting affects socially and economically.
Source: Aerospace Industries Association
The Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry suggests that the “nation immediately reverse the decline in and promote the growth of a scientifically and technologically trained U.S. aerospace workforce.”
The benefits currently exist in the aerospace industry are heavily driven by the sheer versatility of this particular employment arena. It is an industry that requires acute technical skills and engineering sophistication, coupled with practicality and functionality. Not only does the workforce need to demonstrate high-tech, engineering expertise in all endeavors, but the skillful, manual efforts of mechanics and technicians in production facilities are also an absolute necessity.
Wages and Occupations. Aerospace production manufacturing workers earn a mean hourly wage of $17.06. Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians’ 2014 median pay was $56,980 per year or $27.40 per hour, but with little or no on-the-job training.1 Entry-level, lesser skilled production manufacturing workers require the most job support and additional job training to enhance their performance and earning potential. Precision skills are the most desirable attributes possessed by this labor force.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, aerospace engineering and operations technicians’ annual mean salary in 2014 was $64,310 with 11,230 individuals employed nationwide. The highest concentration of employment in this occupation was in the Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing industry. Some of the responsibilities of an aerospace engineering and operations technician entail operating, installing, calibrating and maintaining integrated computer and data acquisition systems, along with testing and measuring instruments utilized in launching, positioning, tracking and evaluating vehicles deployed into air and space.
The occupational segment requiring the highest level of training is that related to aerospace engineers, since this occupation primarily focuses on the design, construction and actual testing of aircraft, missiles and spacecraft. As of 2014, the annual mean salary was $107,700 with 69,080 employees nationwide. California, Washington, Texas, Ohio and Alabama are the top five states with the highest level of employment in this occupation.
The vital component in all of this interplay is investing in the workforce – by incentivizing the local population to take advantage of local resources, grants and training programs, the industry will be equipped to recruit and retain top-notch, quality talent.
Market Outlook and Future Projections
Technology. The aerospace realm has witnessed incredibly-significant technological strides in 2015. These advances will continue to occur more frequently in the upcoming years. Note, the most recent groundbreaking research and development covers a wide-ranging spectrum of exploration and experimentation and is also undergoing an intensively swift movement forward, catapulting the industry into far-reaching domains. The team at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, has been testing the components required to build a high-performing, 3D-printed rocket engine. Other companies, including Boeing and the Canadian space and defense company Thoth Technology, have pursued approval through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to help spur these R&D ideas into the manufacturing stage. Boeing has a newly-approved patent to build a convertible drone-to-submarine prototype. To continue this momentum, these projects need propelled further into realization with the driving force of highly-trained professionals and assembly by skilled workers.
Growth Areas. Aerospace manufacturers are seizing financial opportunities to grow, leveraging currently low interest rates and reduced operational costs, but in doing so, also must maintain a steady production pace and accurately address backlog issues. Participants in the aerospace industry can tackle the heavy workload by incorporating a well-measured, long-term human capital strategy2 into business practices. In other words, the workforce must include the “right” mix of skills to match job requirements, so that the business operates as a cohesive unit and is able to sustain itself in spite of market fluctuations. The balance lies in carefully capturing the wealth of knowledge entrenched in experienced retiring workers, while empowering new and less-seasoned employees, as well as potential candidates, with the appropriate technical suite of skills and cross-training experiences.
Examining Community Landscape (Integrating with Businesses)
Companies must remain profitable in uncertain times. How can they successfully overcome financial obstacles?
Higher Learning. Regional markets located within a sphere of influence often organically develop as the result of a strategic alignment or partnership, like that of the U.S. Air Force with local colleges and universities. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base located in Dayton, Ohio, has diversified and expanded educational outreach through the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), which is the only Air Force aeronautical and aerospace research organization spearheading the “discovery, development and integration of warfighting science technologies.” Dayton and the surrounding southwestern Ohio communities include more than 100,000 students with direct routes to two-year community colleges and four-year institutions. What sets this program apart is its accessibility and proximity to cultural attractions.
Four-year institutions include Miami University, the University of Dayton, Wright State University and the Air Force Institute of Technology. Also encompassed within the region are two-year community colleges, including Clark State, Edison State and Sinclair. As far as amenities are concerned, Dayton’s art and cultural institutions demonstrate excellent standards by showcasing performances by The Dayton Ballet, The Dayton Opera and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Local attractions facilitate an added dimension to a healthy work-life balance.
The importance of the educational element is that it enables proper preparation and opens pathways for success to students wishing to embark upon this career track. The curriculum is geared toward science and mathematics, with an emphasis placed on engineering fundamentals. For example, the University of Alabama’s aerospace engineering program focuses on coursework that will equip students with the knowledge and technical “know-how” to thrive in a very competitive workspace. Introduction to Aerospace, Engineering Foundations, Statics, Dynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Calculus, Chemistry, Physics, English Composition and C++ Programming highlight just some of the areas of study.3
An associate’s degree in engineering technology is valued by those seeking employment as an aerospace engineering and operations technician. Technical and vocational programs, such as the New England Institute of Technology, offer two-year degrees with coursework to acquire the manual skills needed to wire and install electrical systems and apparatus, as well as providing a platform for understanding and troubleshooting complex electrical projects. Computer-generated circuit calculations, safety protocols, and OSHA regulations are blended into electrical theory and laboratory projects to provide a comprehensive foundation. Associates in Science degree coursework may include Electrical Foundations I and Lab, Transformers and Lab, Advancing Wiring/NEC III, Industrial Controls, and Motor Theory.
Another consideration is the purpose of educational grants. The Dayton Area Graduate Studies Institute (DAGSI) has established the Ohio Student-Faculty Research Fellowship program, mostly funded by the Ohio Board of Regents (BOR). Essentially, the intent of this program is to develop research talent to meet the needs of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Ohio high-tech workforce.4 Furthermore, the program promotes efficacy and strengthens the research conducted between the AFRL and Ohio universities academic science and engineering communities. The DAGSI awards at least 10 new student-faculty fellowships annually, with the option to renew several projects each year. Contributions made by the DAGSI can reach annual maximums of $52,260 for a doctoral-level award and $44,130 for a masters-level award.
Economic Development Organizations. Economic development corporations and organizations are getting creative through programs such as the Space Coast Economic Development Commission’s Incumbent Worker Training Program. Planning for specialized aerospace-related curriculum and relevant courses requires a drive for ongoing engagement and a certain level of enticing options for professional development. Along the same vein, these methods enable grant-funding and customizable platforms for existing “for-profit” companies to provide accessible and applicable training right in their own backyard. This also opens the doors for cross-functional team collaboration. There are application requirements that must be met in order to obtain this incentive, such as the ability to demonstrate financial viability, have at least one full-time Florida resident employee, and comply with non-discrimination and equal opportunity provisions. Preference is also given to HUB zones, inner city distressed areas, rural counties and brownfields.5
Often times, the perception of what the aerospace industry requires of workers falls into a category of being a knowledge-based pursuit, but that in no way diminishes the value of having personnel trained and ready in manufacturing plants and facilities. It truly is a win-win scenario for both workers and businesses enticed by the opportunity to relocate and grow.
Site Selection and Area Development. Logistics and infrastructure take center stage. Aerospace companies electing to be near military bases can reap the advantages of military-trained personnel. Repurposing existing military base facilities, such as hangers, can provide lower-cost solutions for new locations. A region’s economic vitality is positively influenced by the presence of military bases, such as the success stories in Charleston, South Carolina, and Mobile, Alabama. Former military employees make excellent candidates for aerospace companies because of work ethic, training and discipline. Having security clearance also provides the opportunity to continue working on national defense projects.
In 2011, The Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research at the University of South Carolina was created to energize South Carolina’s workforce development to support the diverse needs of the aerospace industry through “aerospace education, research leadership and industry advancement.”6 The Center has also strategically aligned with local companies, universities and the South Carolina Department of Commerce. In South Carolina alone, there are 36,000 aerospace workers at military aviation facilities and 17,000 in the aerospace core, or private industry.7
The aerospace industry is dynamic, with distinct workforce needs. Skilled workforce availability in this industry is just as important for major manufacturer as it is for smaller suppliers. Considering the variety of employment opportunities, economic factors and regional “hot spots,” the aerospace industry is poised to achieve remarkable results. Seeking out locations already positioned to generate successful partnerships with local stakeholders, calibrating resources for the right amount of growth, and utilizing educational institutions to further train employees will help to establish a sustainable, viable plan for the future state of the industry.
In 2016, The Austin Company is proud to be celebrating 100 years of service to the aviation, aerospace and defense industry. Learn more at www.theaustin.com.
Frank Spano, Managing Director: As managing director of Austin Consulting, Frank develops and leads new strategies to increase The Austin Company’s leadership in aerospace, food and beverage and other manufacturing sectors. Frank also serves as a senior project manager, directs site location studies, and conducts detailed field investigation analyses for clients.
Frank’ areas of expertise include the aerospace and aviation, automotive, food and beverage, general manufacturing and consumer products industries, in addition to pharmaceuticals, publishing and alternative energy. Frank.Spano@theaustin.com
Susan Riffle, Communications Specialist
As Communications Specialist, Susan is responsible for creating and managing corporate communications, employee communications, online and content marketing activities, and thought leadership materials, including whitepapers, articles and blogs. Susan holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration with concentration in Strategic Marketing. Susan.Riffle@theaustin.com
Bianca Holtier Coury, Project Purchasing Agent
As a Project Purchasing Agent, Bianca is responsible for buying out trade packages in design-build capacity to align scope of work with competitive pricing and ensuring document control, precise cost-control schedules, and contract adherence. Bianca has over 10 years’ experience in construction project management, procurement, and urban planning, with concentration in green building and sustainable initiatives. Bianca holds a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Design and Architecture Studies. Bianca.Holtier@TheAustin.com