Diversity in Aerospace – the real final frontier is attracting STEM talent
Joel Forrester

Diversity in Aerospace – the real final frontier is attracting STEM talent

It is said that space is the final frontier - but there are many challenges in the space industry right here on earth. Where you might think that anyone and everyone would want to work in an industry that launches rockets to space and monitors far off planets, there is actually a concerning skills shortage in the UK space industry, in the same way that there is in the wider UK Aerospace sector and in many STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

The space industry in the UK is booming. Currently worth £16.4bn per year, it looks set to grow even further following a further investment of £1.84bn in partnership with the Europen Space Agency. This will create a greater demand for aerospace engineers, echoing the current demand seen in the US for 3,800 engineers every year.

There are already challenges in the various STEM industries. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills revealed earlier this year that 43% of STEM vacancies were hard to fill due to a shortage of applicants, and 97% of decision makers from across aerospace, defence and government admit they are struggling to gain a digital advantage across data, people and technology.

This talent is clearly needed, as nearly half of respondents to the UK Commission for Employment and Skill’s study added that greater access to STEM talent will help them overcome certain barriers in areas such as cybersecurity.
So where can the UK aerospace industry find the STEM talent that could resolve so many of their problems both now and in the future, in order to become and remain a contender in the global space arena? The answer might lie in diversity.

Diversity in the UK space industry

  • The 2020 Space Census provided the first comprehensive demographic statistics for the UK space sector, and clearly demonstrated key issues.
  • Women are significantly under-represented (29%), particularly in industry (22%) and the military (17%).
  • Disabled people are under-represented (8% compared to 13% in the wider workforce)
  • Ethnic minorities are under-represented (11% compared to 14% in the population at large)
  • Carers are under-represented (6% compared to 15% in the wider workforce)
  • People from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds are over-represented, with twice the national average proportion of privately educated people.

There is a distinct lack of diversity within the space industry, driven by a number of socioeconomic factors as well as a perception of how welcoming the space industry might be to some demographics.

Attitudes to women, people of colour and people with disabilities may have modernised significantly however, if people within those demographics cannot see themselves being accepted in the space industry, the chances are they will not even apply.

Parents and carers may see the space industry as inaccessible due to a need for flexibility, and despite many industries being more open to alternative arrangements, this needs to be communicated in ways that go beyond a paragraph at the bottom of a job advert – it needs to be part of a targeted recruitment drive, in the same way as it should be for other underrepresented groups.

The reasons behind the disproportionate number of privately educated individuals within the space sector are more complex. People from more advantaged backgrounds are often more easily able to take unpaid work experience placements and internships at a young age, always giving them an experience advantage over those with less financial support and in need of an income. This leaves them more likely to apply, in the knowledge that they have desirable industry experience.

Ensuring that all work experience and internships are either paid, or work around a paid job, is key to ensuring that this career path advantage is open to interested young people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, and not limited to those that can afford to take unpaid work.

However, there is the same general perception at all stages of education and in the workplace for those from less advanced socio-economic backgrounds – that entering the aerospace and space industry is competitive and difficult for anyone without connections or experience. Given the demand, this is not in fact the case.

Encouraging a diverse workforce to attract talent

There is potentially an exceptional amount of engineering, industrial and military talent out there not currently considering the space industry as a viable career option because it has never occurred to them that it is an industry open to someone with their background, situation, and experience.

The UK space industry needs to clearly communicate to these individuals that they are not only equally acceptable candidates, but also actively welcome. In turn, these individuals will provide a greater breadth of life experience and wider perspectives into the industry.

Case study example: Airbus seeks to drive more female applicants to the aerospace industry

The number of female workers within the Aircraft Fitter function of the business in Airbus Broughton had typically wavered around 1%, out of an approximate 500 strong workforce during pre-pandemic times.

This is significantly below the already male orientated, 10% to 15% female representation seen in the wider UK engineering workforce and means they could potentially be missing out on great talent - who believe that as females, they would not succeed in this area of the industry.

Airbus’s goal was to go beyond hitting the industry average for female representation in its manufacturing team at Broughton. Guidant Global worked within Airbus in 2022 on an innovative end-to-end attraction strategy and candidate journey, targeting women.

Guidant Global created a campaign featuring a female talent attraction initiative, showing them in a rewarding and exciting career where they have the potential to progress. Results were almost immediate.

  • Between Feb 2022 and Dec 2022, Airbus had 229 quality applications from female jobseekers.
  • Female representation is now at 23%, up from their previous level of 1%, and 8%-13% higher than industry standard.
  • 35% of new hires into the aircraft fitter workforce are now female.
  • Retention rates are excellent with 59 women taken on during the campaign still in the role as of January 2023.

Airbus is still constantly receiving applications through word of mouth and campaign impact within the local community, and they are continuing to create and roll out more blogs spotlighting female talent to maintain momentum. Feedback is also being consistently collected at every stage of the candidate journey with continual improvement in mind.

Communicate your desire for diversity with Guidant Global

At Guidant Global we believe that all workplaces can benefit from a more diverse labour pool. We work with clients who might not be sure how to effectively and efficiently go about achieving. Get in touch to find out how a more diverse workforce can help attract untapped talent into your business and create a sustainable workforce.

 

About the author

Joel is the UK and European Sales lead for Guidant Global - powered by the Impellam Group. Having enjoyed many years of proven success working closely with clients providing programmes valued between £15m - £190m, he has developed vast knowledge on the intricacies of an in depth RFI, RFP tender process and vital experience in developing key strategic relationships with clients and stakeholders throughout a full sales cycle from prospect to client.

Follow Joel on LinkedIn

Workforce insights in your inbox

Sign up for our newsletter with the latest workforce management news, insights, analysis and more.