Closing the tech talent gap

Departments - From the Flight Deck

Workforce development is a perennial topic in manufacturing, especially the need to replace skilled machinists reaching retirement age. But they aren’t the only employees wanted. A recent study by consultants McKinsey & Co. estimates there are 50,000 unfilled aerospace and defense (A&D) sector positions. What surprises me is the demand for software engineers is twice that of hardware engineers.

In the report, “Debugging the software talent gap in aerospace and defense,” McKinsey analysts note hardware is often secondary to, or on par with, the software that controls almost every aspect of A&D industry operations. Alarmingly, “The complexity of the software in aerospace systems is … almost doubling every four years – and has been for at least five decades.”

It’s not surprising there’re lots of coding jobs – artificial intelligence (AI), simulation, Big Data analytics, and the growing trend for model-based everything – is fueling the need for software engineers.

In debuting the findings at the Farnborough International Airshow (FIA), one of the authors, McKinsey Associate Partner Matt Schrimper, explained that many A&D companies face a range of challenges in recruiting software talent, including unprecedented competition from the tech industry (Google, Amazon, start-ups), pandemic attrition, and a culture whose work-life values differ from traditional A&D organizations.

“Young tech-savvy employees want more latitude in their roles, as well as the ability to work remotely and choose their own hours. They care more about balance and purpose than previous generations,” the report states. “In a world of open-source coding and habitual transparency, they find the locked environments of security-focused organizations difficult to swallow.”

Security requirements aren’t negotiable, but legacy A&D companies can change their hiring approach.

“Pay alone is not a driver for tech talent,” Schrimper says. “They care about growth, learning opportunities that start-ups don’t offer, and flexibility in their career paths.” The tech sector offers them lateral moves and the option of leaving and later returning without penalty – a career trajectory uncommon in legacy A&D companies.

McKinsey’s research suggests four strategies for successful tech talent recruitment and retention, summarized here:

Rethink the employee value proposition, putting an emphasis on purpose, flexibility, collaboration, and inclusion.

Tailor your approach to technology talent. Companies must redesign the tech talent life cycle and their workplace culture to succeed.

Enlarge the national-security tech talent pool. Use the mission’s call-to-service to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented people.

To improve retention, build a healthier organization. The shortfalls in role clarity and employee involvement are particularly notable at A&D companies. Employees who report having a positive employee experience have 16x the engagement level of employees with a negative one, and they’re 8x more likely to want to stay at a company.

Managers must model behaviors that encourage individuality, value the input of all team members, and allow employees to experiment without fear of negative consequences.

A&D companies must adapt to hire and keep the tech talent they’ll increasingly need in the future. – Eric