Hiring challenges in Aerospace and Defence
Joel Forrester

Hiring challenges in Aerospace and Defence

There’s a wealth of opportunities in the Aerospace and Defence sector. Firms are earning significant investment, with a £15.4 million contract for a cutting-edge crewless submarine just one of the recent announcements. But the sector has faced an on-going talent shortage that could threaten future growth opportunities.  

So, what are the greatest challenges facing employers in the sector? 

Vetting processes 

One of the most common talent sourcing struggles is driven by the complexity and length of the vetting process. Potential new hires and contingent staff are required to go through a robust screening process that’s to be expected given the nature of the work. But this can take upwards of 18 months in some instances. 

The longer the process goes on, the greater the chance for an individual to be poached or simply become dis-engaged and exit the process. And once this happens, procurement teams are back to square one.  

Volume hiring 

With huge investment planned across the sector, the need for volume hiring increases. But again, the processes in place aren’t set up to handle high-volume recruitment quickly. The impact this has on the contingent worker or candidate experience is potentially damaging. This will only create longer-term challenges when attempting to hire from disengaged talent pools.  

Diversity 

Aerospace and Defence does have a diversity challenge. The sector needs to become more appealing to a broader range of talent, not just in terms of under-represented groups, but also sources of skills. The majority of workers have prior experience in the sector and employers have had a rather narrow view on where they want to source their staff. This limits both the size of the talent pool they can access as well as the diversity of the skills they bring in. 

There is a lot of work needed to bring the sector up to speed with diverse representation in the workplace. But what we are seeing is a general reliance on hiring managers to identify transferable skills when they often haven’t had the training to achieve this themselves. 

Competition and retention

The blinkered approach to where talent can be found that I mention above also means that businesses are competing with each other for the same, very narrow, talent pool. What we are seeing now is more competition from outside of the Aerospace and Defence sector.  

Engineering is engineering, whether that’s in Defence, Aerospace or Pharmaceuticals and Life Sciences. With demand for these skills growing across other remits, staff who would have stayed in the sector are being lured to other areas.  

Again, the sector is behind the curve with retention strategies for permanent and contingent workers largely due to the reliance on out-dated recruitment methods. Many do also rely on under-evolved employer branding messages and diversity policies that don’t create the level of loyalty that employers in other sectors command.  

Pay parity 

The competition outside of the Aerospace and Defence sector is also having an impact on pay parity – particularly in the current economic climate. With staff recognising that they have a range of opportunities elsewhere, they’re being enticed by inflated pay packets in sectors that can afford to throw more money at talent challenges. 

Addressing the issues 

As you’ll probably have gathered, there’s a number of challenges all of which are linked in some way. This means that the solution to the Aerospace and Defence talent scarcity needs to address all of the barriers above in one – and that’s not going to be easy.  

From my experience, there are five key steps to implement: 

  1. Build a strong employer value proposition (EVP): If employers are to attract contingent and permanent resources they need an EVP that appeals to the wants of diverse talent. Once people get into the sector they tend to find their passion and if they have a clear career path, they’ll stay longer. In order to get them through the door in the first place, they need to see what’s in it for them – behind the financial incentive.   
  2. Broaden talent pools: There needs to be a diversity overhaul that’s built into EVP strategies. The sector needs to look at where it is lacking in representation and what transferrable skills need to be engaged in order to broaden the workforce it can access and improve diversity of thought.  
  3. Train hiring managers: If the above point is to be achieved, there will need to be a change in hiring approaches. Training hiring managers to help them recognise transferable skills, support diverse hiring and ensure the right EVP is coming across in the recruitment process is key. 
  4. Rethink veteran hiring: As a veteran myself, I believe this talent pool is under-utilised. Many who leave the armed forces have the direct or transferrable skills the sector needs. From a vetting point of view, an employer will have the security knowing they’ve already gone through a thorough screening programme. But how they are engaged requires a tailored approach. The transition into the civvy world can be challenging for some. As such, they are likely to leave within their first year of a post-service role. Steps can be taken to better support them in this transition, but there’s also a benefit in engaging with these individuals as they near their first year working in a civilian role.
  5. Utilise MSP and RPO solutions: If a business or its suppliers are not looking after their contingent workers they’ll look elsewhere. But with so many suppliers to manage and complex vetting processes to control, procurement teams don’t need to shoulder the burden alone. Utilising a strategic MSP or RPO provider with the skills and abilities to manage workforce solutions will streamline the process and offer additional, unbiased, information to drive real change in hiring strategies.    

Download our full talent scarcity report to find out more about the UK’s skills shortages and how your sector compares to others.  

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