No Women!

The Aerospace and Defence Industry has had long-standing diversity issues. These have not gone away during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, attention being diverted elsewhere means more will need be done when we start to normalise.

Many companies are aware of the disparity that exists and are proactively seeking ways to better represent the communities they serve. But the diversity challenge is still causing headaches for many sector leaders, not least because of the headlines generated whenever gender pay gap or BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) recruitment statistics are published.

However, headlines can often be misleading, and while efforts are being made to address the inequalities that exist, we must not overlook the excellent progress made over recent years.

Take the issue of pay as an example. Figures obtained by PayScale show that the median salary for male workers within the sector sits at around £37,500, while for their female counterparts that figure is 13% less – at about £32,500. When you compare this to the UK national average pay gap of 17.9%, the aerospace industry is performing quite well. Much of this is down to the ongoing efforts of some of the sector’s largest employers and could well mask the trends within some of the smaller organisations.

BAE Systems, for example, reported that their 2019 median gender pay gap was just 9.1% compared to the 11.2% reported in 2018. Rolls Royce has a reported median gender pay gap of 8.1%, while MB Aerospace stands at 6.4%. Mettis Aerospace states theirs at 3.4%.

Last summer, 50 UK companies in the aerospace and aviation sector signed a Charter committing to work towards greater gender balance within the industry. By abiding by the terms of this new agreement, the sector could do much more to address that other major challenge to which it has long struggled to effectively overcome – attracting new talent into the industry.

The STEM Challenge!

In 2015, the then Aerospace Industries Association Chief Executive Officer, Marion Blakey, claimed the sector did not have a “robust pipeline of young people with the right skills and training coming into the workforce.” She was correct then and the same could be said today. The aerospace industry is facing some crucial skills gaps. In 2017 for instance, Boeing forecast that the sector would need c.637,000 more pilots and c.648,000 aircraft technicians by 2036. This will have been impacted by Covid-19’s effect on the aviation sector, however there will still be future skills gaps once the market normalises.

Progress in tackling the skills shortage is being made, however. According to The Engineering Council, the number of female engineers is increasing annually (women now make up 13% of Chartered Engineers). But there is still a long way to go. There is also the representation of people from different ethnicities to consider; a third of engineers from minority ethnic backgrounds do not find engineering particularly inclusive, and 85% have had assumptions made about them based on their culture. If more than 25% of women say STEM careers are not for them, surely diversity is not truly being tackled at grassroots level? Therefore, recruiting from a diverse talent pool at more senior levels will help organisations to benefit from getting the best talent for each role as well as a wider range of experiences and ways of thinking to better inform business decisions.

Improving diversity is a long game. Businesses and educational institutions must find new ways to inspire the next generation so that aerospace and aviation is an attractive potential career path. A good example of this is aerospace giant Northrop Grumman. They have been working with schools and universities internationally to promote STEM education amongst women and ethnic minorities. They have also provided educational grants and internships. But is this enough?

Improving diversity goes beyond producing positive coverage and enhancing company reputation. It can have tangible impacts on the bottom line and can boost financial returns. Gender diverse organisations were found to deliver better long-term returns to investors. Plus, having a mix of cultures and ethnicities in a team can make it easier to appreciate and enter new territories.

The diversity challenge in aerospace is significant and requires total collaboration to tackle it. Solutions are required at several levels – within schools, within the industry and outside of the sector. Improving diversity should be a priority for aerospace companies, not only from a moral standpoint, but also because there are corporate benefits to be realised.

If you would like to discuss this article, market trends more generally, or to have a confidential discussion about your own hiring challenges and plans, please do not hesitate to contact Adam Small via adam.small@normanbroadbent.com  or +44 (0) 7483 015 602

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Will UAM take off?

In 1962s, the Jetson’s The Family of the Future! burst on to American TV offering viewers a glimpse of lifestyle of tomorrow. With the date of that ‘future’ fast approaching (believed to be 2021), there has been no shortage of commentators wondering where their robot nannies and other futuristic household gadgets are. Most memorable, of course, were the Jetson’s flying cars, widely believed to be the most fantastic of all the inventions. Yet recent developments in the world of urban air mobility (UAM) suggest that such a mode of transport may be closer than we think. With several proof-of-concept trials to support the feasibility of UAM, is this ‘futuristic’ mode of travel set to take off?

Airbus and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) have recently signed a memorandum of understanding to enable UAM in Singapore. The collaboration aims to bring UAM services and platforms to reality in Singapore’s urban environment, with the target to enhance industry productivity and improve the country’s regional connectivity. Another German company, Volocopter has also identified Singapore as a prime location to test its fully electric manned air taxis, in partnership with local predominant ride hailing app, Grab.  Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Wisk, a joint venture between Kitty Hawk and Boeing has proposed trials of their unmanned craft in the Christchurch region. While there are many obvious differences between these two urban landscapes, the range of the Wisk is only 25km, so the focus remains on short-distance urban flights.

So, is this the solution to urban congestion or just pie in the sky? As cities and roads have grown more congested, focus has increasingly turned to the skies above as alternative routes. NASA, Boeing, Airbus and Uber have all thrown their hats in the ring to develop potential short-hop, manned or unmanned, electric aircraft, all utilising vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technology. In the end, the dream is the craft which can pick you up from the pad on your building’s roof top or drop you off in the car park to go to the cinema. Volocopter CEO Florian Reuter cites another Sci-Fi universe as inspirational, namely, Luc Bessons The Fifth Element, which features car flying on multiple levels through the ‘canyons’ created by towering buildings in New York City.

There are many challenges and potential criticisms for this upsurge in urban air mobility. One primary area of concern is safety. Put simply, fewer people walk away unharmed from an airborne vehicle accident than one on the ground. Both the Wisk and the Volocopter boast in-built redundancies, meaning they can lose several of the electric-powered rotors which provide lift before the craft is in danger of losing altitude. Then there is the question of manned or unmanned craft. A pilot introduces the element of user error, but critics of unmanned aerial vehicles point to the failure to develop a reliably safe driverless car, without introducing the complexities of air travel.

Sustainability is another key area of debate. Most vehicles in development are electric, so many advocates argue that UAM schemes may come to represent the greenest way to get around. Eventually they could be powered by solar or other renewable sources. However, there are carbon-costs associated with building and developing the aircraft, and as most proposed designs are for one or two passengers, it will take many hundreds of journeys to pay off the carbon debt.

Another criticism often levelled at UAM schemes, is that they offer a transportation scheme for the few, rather than the many. The designs currently under development are for air taxis, small vehicles for single passengers or small groups. It seems inevitable that it will remain an elite mode of transport, even as the technology develops and production costs come down, for there must be a limit to the number of EVTOL craft any metropolis can support?

Urban congestion is ultimately an artefact of increasingly populous cities, something the Jetson’s never had to contend with. What would the desire for individual ‘family’ aircraft mean for our Urban landscape, or should I say ‘skyscape’? Many critics argue that the solution must be to focus on developing greener and more effective modes of public transportation, such as the elevated bus, a Chinese design for a large public passenger vehicle which runs on rails straddling a road, while allowing traffic to pass underneath.

So, will UAM bring us closer to the cities of the future? Or are these trials little more than publicity stunts? The answer will no doubt lie somewhere in the middle. Unlike the Jetson’s we will probably never see the rise of the ‘flying car’ (or EVTOL craft) as a family vehicle – modern urban population density renders that an impossible dream. However, there is little doubt they will form part of the solution for our future urban transportation, probably in conjunction with other forms of transport. In the course of developing and refining these craft, there will no doubt be technological advancements and refinements with wider applications than just air mobility.  As these percolate through transportation technology, we can hope to see those applications across many forms of transport, bringing sustainability to the forefront of the sector as a whole …

If you would like to confidentially discuss how Norman Broadbent Group could help you overcome your business or people challenges, please contact, Adam Small, on 07483 015 602 or via adam.small@normanbroadbentsolutions.com

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