Quality Magazine

Aerospace and Defense Companies Hiring, But Face Challenges Retaining Young Pros

August 18, 2010

NEW YORK-Aviation Week has released results from its 2010 Workforce and Young Professionals/Student Study, a mainstay for aerospace and defense (A&D) planning and trend analysis since 1997, which show that A&D companies plan to hire 15,500 professionals this year. However, retaining younger employees continues to be a challenge-the voluntary attrition rate (employees choosing to leave) for young professionals rose to 21%, and 41% admit to looking for new jobs. The study also reviewed industry retirement rates and ranked the top universities for A&D alumni hires, with California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, at number one.

"The Workforce Study pinpointed several key issues-mounting voluntary attrition among young professionals, a drop in retirements tied to the economic situation and unknowns surrounding the Defense Department's push to decrease its reliance on contractors," says Project Leader Carole Rickard Hedden. "The good news is that we now have intel on how young professionals and students make career decisions, thanks to the first-ever Young Professionals and University Student Survey."

Aviation Week's highly regarded Workforce Study has been enhanced this year with a groundbreaking, new "Young Professionals and University Student" component. Data gathered directly from college engineering students and employees under 35 help A&D companies determine how to address critical workforce issues, such as supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, boosting creativity and productivity, and recruiting and retaining talent. The survey found that although salary is important to young professionals, a challenging work environment with interesting and varied assignments is the biggest factor in career decisions. Addressing this preference and other issues could reduce voluntary attrition.

"A&D companies should work to determine if there are loyalty issues that are causing this loss of younger workers and try to address it with proven retention programs," offers Lee Palmer, Hitachi Consulting Aerospace and Defense Industry National Leader and a member of the Workforce Study Advisory Board. "If this attrition trend continues to rise and an economic uptick triggers those of retirement age to leave, the industry could be in a serious situation with gaps on both ends of the employment spectrum."

Forecasts in recent years have warned of a mass departure of "baby boomer" talent and leadership, but due to the global recession, the retirement rate has slowed significantly, dropping to only 2.0% this year. This pause in retirements is only temporary, however; industry leaders are still concerned that when the economy improves, a wave of older employees will retire without enough younger professionals to fill the gap. Nearly 30% of the A&D workforce is 50-59 years old.

"Compared to other industries, A&D remains in a strong position for offering challenging and important work," adds Rickard Hedden. "The test now is to keep this strong position, and to better align and transition people for future job needs."

Produced in partnership with the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), and Hitachi Consulting, Aviation Week’s Workforce and Young Professionals/Student Study is the official industry report, providing a single source of reliable data that analyzes current A&D workforce issues, trends and opportunities. Findings were based on responses from 36 A&D companies with a total of 550,000 employees, representing more than 85% of the industry's total workforce (644,200); as well as responses from 1,400 young professionals and engineering students. The data were aggregated and formulated by market research firm Development II.