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£2bn cash injection heralds bright future for UK aerospace engineering

Rebekah Valero-Lee Aerospace and Defence

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Nick Clegg’s recent announcement that the Government and Aerospace industry will, over the course of seven years, invest £2bn into the UK’s Aerospace engineering initiatives via the newly created ATI, is a positive step at a time when the  industry is reaching a critical point in its evolution.

Historically, the UK has been a leader in Aerospace, developing and  manufacturing pioneering aircraft – in both the commercial and military sectors – but there has been a significant shift in the industry over the past decade.  There is increased demand from commercial airline operators and their passengers  for innovative products that are fuel-efficient, cost effective to operate and  environmentally sustainable.

Through operators, consumer demand filters back to the manufacturers, and  then to companies such as Morson, who specialise in the provision of highly  skilled workers and services, in niche disciplines. When perhaps 10 or 20 years  ago, the UK Aerospace industry required engineers skilled in the manufacture of  aircraft, we now see an increasing requirement for skills that incorporate all  stages of an aircraft’s lifespan.

The UK has long been a leader in the aerospace  industry

From conception to completion, the development of an aircraft can take up to  eight years. In that time there will be a need for engineers with skills in  design, stress, analysis, manufacturing, systems and software. The industry has  to move with the times, and the input of this key collaborative investment will  go a long way to addressing the demand for skilled workers in the industry.

The engineering skills shortage is well documented. A substantial percentage  (over 50%) of the engineering industry’s high-level specialists will, within the  next 10-15 years, approach retirement. Currently, there are considerable  concerns about how these roles will be filled, and new skills developed.

The approach that has been taken, by companies that have the capability to do  so, is to upskill contractors or put training opportunities in place. Morson has  supported apprenticeship schemes for over two decades, and has seen the benefit  first-hand. However, this piecemeal approach cannot address the industry’s  collective need. This investment goes some way to address the issue, but in the  long-term the industry must support and proactively encourage the promotion of  career opportunities, not simply at graduate level, but right back to  school-age.

To maintain our technical edge in composite design, aircraft systems and  manufacturing technology, there needs to be a commitment to invest in skills and  knowledge development.

Once upon a time engineering was perceived to be a desirable career choice.  Over the past few decades that perception changed, in favour of careers in  professional services, finance and the arts. It was, and still is to some  extent, perceived to be a male-biased industry, but we have seen the beginnings  of a confident step away from this perception, and in the past five years have  experienced a rise in the number of female engineers.

The money invested in the Aerospace Technology Institute will be well placed  to positively impact these issues, but what is most encouraging of all is the  coming together of the industry’s major players. That in itself presents a  unique opportunity to tap into the knowledge and expertise of the pioneering  market leaders, who know what the challenges are first hand, and what needs to  be done to address them.

In the past we have been uncompetitive in the manufacturing environment, but  through investment, retraining and new initiatives, the UK industry has seen a  revival and we are now competing more in export markets. From a recruiter’s  point of view, our focus is to keep up with demand – not just volume of supply,  but the change in skills and scope. A higher level of demand creates new, niche  skills that require training. Finding the most talented individuals is a  challenge, and being able to provide this service has positioned us at the top  of the market.

At Morson, we supply the key players in the UK and global Aerospace industry,  and at present have over 1000 vacancies available for aerospace engineers. That  the ATI could produce a further 115,000 jobs across the industry in the next  seven years is both a challenge and pleasing to hear; it supports my belief that  the creation of the ATI is a much needed focus that allows the UK supply chain  to continue to maintain its leading position as a world-class supplier of  technical services and products.

There is no doubt that to maintain our technical edge in composite design,  aircraft systems and manufacturing technology, there needs to be this level of  commitment to invest in skills and knowledge development.

The industry owes it to the young engineers and technologists that the UK  will build its manufacturing future on, to make this investment and enable them  to realise their full potential.

Ged Mason is CEO of Morson Group.This article was published in the Engineer on 28th March 2013 – http://www.theengineer.co.uk/channels/skills-and-careers/opinion/2bn-cash-injection-heralds-bright-future-for-uk-aerospace-sector/1015918.article.