Training: Fuel for aerospace growth

Features - Training

How aerospace manufacturers can build the next generation of workers with vocational training.

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May 27, 2022

Photo credit: Adobe © highwaystarz

Demand for domestic manufacturing has far surpassed pre-pandemic levels. In March 2021, Reuters reported the U.S. manufacturing index reached a 37-year high. At the same time, a skilled labor shortage looms and CNN reported as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs could remain unfilled by 2030.

The U.S. aerospace manufacturing sector faces the same challenges. However, buoyed by a reignited space race – driving competition between private companies such as Space X, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin with a goal to enter orbit using their proprietary technology – it may have fewer struggles if manufacturers can help translate public interest into a skilled workforce.

In the past, space technology research, development, and production were conducted solely by the U.S. government. Now, the proliferation of private firms – and the quest for commercial space travel – has increased demand for this specialty manufacturing. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the global space market is currently valued at $385 billion and is likely to increase to $1.5 trillion by 2040.

Space technology has commonly ignited passion in people, and the new space race is expected to draw more individuals into every aspect of the industry – including manufacturing. With so much diversification in the market, it’s more important for manufacturers to capture this wave of interest and equip the workforce with the skills needed to build progress. The best channel is vocational training.

Vocational training

This encompasses instructional classes and programs teaching skills needed to succeed in a trade. The classes emphasize hands-on, job-specific education and training. Some offer certificates, diplomas, and even associate-level degrees upon completion.

Vocational training can occur through many types of channels, including:

  • High school career and technical education (CTE) programs – Usually involves taking career- or industry-specific courses in high school; helps students prepare for careers in skilled trades industries
  • Trade and technical schools – Two-year programs for high school graduates for particular jobs or careers; after completion, students can earn a certificate, diploma, or associate degree
  • Apprenticeship programs – Structure, duration of these programs vary but often involve actual on-the-job training; students work under direct supervision of another skilled worker to learn a craft or trade

Since technology and industry standards evolve so rapidly, manufacturers themselves need to help shape and educate the next generation of workers. With interest in the trades still lagging, aerospace companies need to leverage public interest in space and drive enrollment in vocational studies. Interest in aerospace manufacturing could overflow into other sectors, with skills translating directly to other trades. Aerospace manufacturers could help end the labor shortage that has impacted the industrial sector for more than a decade.

Next generation of workers

Manufacturers’ involvement in vocational training already takes many shapes, but there are unlimited ways to support education in the trades.

The most direct way is building relationships with the local trade, vocational, and technical schools, especially ones offering programs relevant to the manufacturers’ industry or needs. There are a number of vocational programs that specifically focus on aerospace manufacturing such as:

Many community colleges offer vocational courses and programs as part of their curriculum. All these organizations need funding to thrive, and any donations from manufacturers will support the growth of a skilled workforce. Aerospace companies can make a bigger impact on the future workforce by offering scholarships.

Photo credit: Adobe © auremar

Provide resources

In lieu of actual funding, aerospace manufacturers can donate materials, equipment, and other resources to established programs. CNC and metalworking training classrooms benefit from advanced cutting tools, workpieces, and coolant. This is especially true with highly specialized machinery used in aerospace, such as 5- and 7-axis lathes

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Aerospace manufacturers employ some of the most skilled and talented people in the world, and their passion and experience with space technology could be an incredible draw to curious students. Aerospace companies should consider offering high-level employees as guest speakers or presenters, or helping administrators gear curriculum toward emerging needs in the industry.

Offer apprenticeships

The best experience for any student is practical, hands-on job training. Aerospace manufacturers should offer apprenticeships to students, improving productivity with extra support on the floor and helping build a reliable workforce familiar with company culture, people, and processes. Apprenticeships work synergistically with donations to trade and vocational schools because they give manufacturers access to a pool of talent.

Create in-house programs

In the absence of existing vocational programs, companies can always hire their own educators and create classes for existing employees and potential hires. Manufacturers can work with consultants to create a worthwhile curriculum and use repurposed factory space or rented classrooms for instruction. Companies could elect to offer training for free, on a scholarship basis, or charge and generate some revenue. This type of program may be exceptionally attractive to students who want to work at a particular company, since it can act as a pipeline to employment there.

Promote the trade

Successfully closing the skill gap requires more from manufacturers than fiscally supporting vocational training programs, companies need to play a role in fostering interest in their trade. There’s already been considerable effort in the media to rehabilitate the image of vocational training, but aerospace manufacturers especially should strike while the iron is hot and capitalize on interest in space. It’s imperative to directly engage the community through ad campaigns, presentations, and sponsorships, driving enrollment in aerospace vocational training.

As we contend with the skilled labor shortage and try to navigate the fourth industrial revolution, vocational training is critical for meeting demand. Increasingly fearful of debt and seeking well-paying, secure jobs, more students are taking the plunge and enrolling in trade schools.

State and federal governments are pitching in with funding for vocational training programs and ad campaigns to promote the trades. However, aerospace manufacturers have the biggest contributions to make toward the effort, with invaluable knowledge to impart to the next generation. The current allure around space will ensure they are heard.

Master Fluid Solutions

About the author: John Treese is global training director at Master Fluid Solutions.