Attracting, retaining and developing talent in Aerospace & Defence: six steps to help your firm take off

25 February 2016

It’s clear that talent is the lifeblood of all successful businesses and industries. But for the aerospace, defence and security sector the availability of engineering talent is becoming an acute challenge. A recent report by Engineering UK[1] outlines both the importance of engineering to the UK economy and highlights how the supply of engineers is likely to fall short of expected demand by 2022.

To address that lack of capacity, businesses in the sector need to think carefully about their strategies for attracting, retaining and developing talent. In my view, there are six key areas to which they should pay particularly close attention in order to ensure that they are in the best position to attract and retain talent now and in the future.

1 – Organisational USP. What is it about the organisation that might attract people to work for you? And it may be that the financial package on offer may only be a part of the appeal. Our experience suggests that millennials may be looking for more than money. They’re just as likely to be motivated by considerations such as flexible working, balance and variety of experience and the chance to explore a career path that can take them to different places and provide a range of experiences. And these are all things that smaller companies (who may not be able to compete on pay) can offer.

Smaller organisations should also consider how visible they are to potential candidates and what they have to offer that can differentiate them. They may need to pay attention to the channels they use to raise their profile and think creatively about the options for remuneration that they could offer, for example a stake in the business as well as a salary.

2 – Retaining talent and knowledge. Organisations need to understand the skills that they have in the business today as well as the knowledge that they’ll need to capture to be successful in the future. The impact of digital across the sector is reshaping the required skills base. In addition, an ageing engineering workforce heading for retirement means that considerable knowledge is in danger of leaving the organisation for good. So developing the right training and formal mechanisms for inter-generational knowledge transfer is essential.

3 – Diversity matters. Operating as a diverse organisation is no longer an aspirational nice to have. Diversity is a business imperative. Studies show that diverse workforces outperform their less diverse counterparts. And diversity policies and approaches should not be restricted to gender. They need to embrace across the spectrum in order to access the widest possible talent pool and operate effectively in an increasingly global market. Organisations need to make sure that their processes for both recruitment and internal promotion are free of bias to ensure they maximise their chances of identifying, hiring and promoting the best possible candidates.

4 – Developing people to the full. Organisations often make all the right noises about developing their people – but frequently other, more pressing, priorities can derail those good intentions. Businesses need to recognise that developing people takes time and requires investment and then act accordingly. What’s more, and of particular relevance to the A&D industry, skills development needs to go beyond technical training. Softer, people skills should also be a key part of training as research shows that effective line managers play an essential role in retaining talent. How training and development is delivered is also changing, from classroom style learning to on the job training and mentoring, with resources and learning tools available online and for mobile devices, making them much more user-friendly. Organisations should consider their development activities in line with these changing requirements and should take steps to measure how effective their development activity is, using clear KPIs to track and improve results.

5 – Making the most of apprenticeships. The A&D sector should be well placed to take advantage of the current government emphasis and related developments in the provision of apprenticeships. Organisations need to position themselves to take advantage, by building the right relationships and collaborating with schools and colleges to gain access to this resource for the future. Smaller organisations should also explore ways to work together and pool resources in order to spread the cost and effort associated with administration of apprenticeship schemes. In addition, thought needs to be given upfront to apprentices’ next steps once they’ve completed their training.

6 – Sustaining wellbeing and positive engagement. A happy and engaged workforce is a productive workforce. But in a 24/7, always-on culture it’s increasingly important to set (and stick to) expectations of what working flexibly means so that workers do not feel under pressure to be permanently available when not in the workplace. Stress-related sick leave is on the increase, so it’s important to monitor for signs of stress and intervene early to prevent a damaging loss of productivity.

Every organisation is different. Some will already have good practices in place to address aspects of talent management. But few, if any, will have everything they need to build and develop their future workforce. By examining themselves against the six issues we outline above, all organisations should identify opportunities for improvement. And with talent becoming an ever-scarcer resource, no business can afford to stand still.


Wendy Edwards | Human Capital leader, West & Wales
Profile | +44(0)20 721 23678


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