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Can Upskilling Help A&D Firms Continue to Thrive?

John Karren Principal PwC
By John Karren Principal, PwC
Miguel Smart Principal PwC
By Miguel Smart Principal, PwC

The aerospace and defense (A&D) sector is thriving as demand for air travel increases along with growing worldwide defense needs. But to fulfill customer expectations, the sector has to continue to innovate—and innovation requires digital acumen. With fierce competition for that talent, companies are boosting their efforts to attract and retain people that will enable success.

One way of obtaining needed skills is to invest in upskilling through workforce training and education. CEOs know they cannot hire enough talent externally and that it can be less expensive and more expedient to address skill gaps through workforce training and education. In fact, in PwC’s latest survey of global CEOs, 46 percent said that significant upskilling was the most important factor in closing the skills gap.

Upskilling programs generally offer a mix of opportunities to make learning convenient as well as effective. Some programs are set in the workplace, such as job rotations, apprenticeships, and mentorships. For A&D companies, which have a high proportion of experienced employees, mentorships provide a practical way to transfer knowledge to new employees, ensuring that valuable skills stay within the company. Another effective tool is a “digital hub” through which employees can access upskilling classes, collaborate on projects, and exchange ideas. In January 2019, PwC launched a two-year training program to boost employees’ digital skills, encourage learning through peer interaction, and empower employees to innovate. This Digital Accelerator program will include classes in data, analytics, blockchain, automation, AI and machine learning, coding, and user experience design.

External upskilling programs can include partnering with various educational institutions. In some cases, A&D companies are working closely with universities, community colleges, and technical trade schools to tailor STEM-related programs. One company recently introduced a STEM scholarship program, allocating $10 million over five years. Other companies are offering free or low-cost access to online certification programs and continuing education courses. These efforts not only help make A&D more attractive to diverse and under-represented populations, they also allow companies to identify promising candidates for future employment.

Upskilling can also help with recruiting and retention. With most A&D companies offering similar comp and benefits packages, upskilling programs can be a differentiator. Young people looking for a place to build a career will be attracted to companies willing to invest in workers and provide opportunities for interesting and challenging experiences. Upskilling efforts can also bring about more diversity and inclusion. For example, one major A&D company created upskilling programs directed at returning veterans and people returning to work after taking leave.

Start with Digital Fitness Assessment

In our work with clients, we see the most successful upskilling programs start by assessing the digital fitness of the organization relative to the skills required to execute its strategy. A company can then create programs geared toward developing those skills, tracking results, and using the feedback—from employees as well as objective measures—for continuous improvement.

The data can then be analyzed to help determine which learning approaches work best with various populations. And to prepare for future workforce needs, companies need to invest in forecasting tools and AI. These investment costs must be weighed against the benefits of building a more agile, diverse workforce that can compete in a world of technological disruption.

PwC is a global network of firms delivering assurance, tax and consulting services.

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