The RAeS Education and Skills Seminar, April 2014, attracted a fantastic mix of guests including representatives from: aerospace and avionics manufacturers; HE and FE providers, Air Cadets,  Department for Transport, Aerospace Growth Partnership, Military Aviation Authority, Civil Aviation Authority, International Federation of Airworthiness and not-for-profit educational organisations, to name a few, representing a cross-section of the aerospace, aviation and military industries. 

The Education and Skills Committee Chairman, Simon Witts, chaired the seminar which kicked off with a keynote speech from RAeS Immediate Past President, Jenny Body OBE FRAeS, who highlighted some of the key areas that were the focus of her presidency, including technology, skills, STEM and diversity - both in terms of gender, disability and socially disadvantaged so that all those with the right skills and knowledge can access the industry and opportunities within it.

Jenny also emphasised that while aerospace is one UK sector which has grown during the recession, when it comes to skills and STEM, there are many duplicating activities and a distinct lack of coordination and long-term view, the latter being essential for aerospace where many projects are long-term.

Simon Witts highlighted similar issues for the aviation sector. While many believe that the two sectors i.e. aerospace (OEMs, space, defence, SME manufacturers) and aviation (such as airlines, airports, ATC), should work more closely together, for others the two should remain separate in their approach, an issue which remains unresolved and one which the Society’s Education and Skills Committee aims to address given the Royal Aeronautical Society’s unique footprint across all areas of the aerospace and aviation community, which includes both employers, education providers and charitable organisations. He explained that one aspect of the ESC work plan was to help pull together a list of the different networks and committees working on skills issues for aerospace and aviation in the UK, Europe and internationally, to help pinpoint people in the right direction and be able to share information and expertise.

The proposed break-down of the ESC workplan to cover this diversity has been divided into the following four areas which were first proposed in the inaugural Education and Skills Conference of October 2013: Operators; Facilitators; Originators; and Enablers and the seminar audience seemed broadly supportive of this approach as a logical and inclusive way to reach key stakeholders. 

However, the main focus of the seminar was to encourage discussion and there was a very lively debate which went to highlight the current concerns of employers and training providers and those working closely both with young people and professionals. For example, there was general agreement that in vocational training, which often takes place in FE colleges, more delivery of training by ex-industry professional engineers - particularly for manufacturing, maintenance and hand skills related courses - was essential. However, one former-industry, now FE lecturer present pointed out that FE lecturer salaries are much lower than other teaching professions, particularly compared to similar posts in HE, making it difficult to attract high calibre people from industry.

There was also strong presence from the Military Aviation Authority which, one representative explained, “has identified the pressures caused by the lack of skilled people as one of our top risks.”

There were also discussions about the difficulties for military personnel to transfer into civilian aerospace and aviation roles when leaving the services, usually due to regulatory restrictions. However the point was made that the retention of staff in military roles is also important. There is some work to address breaking down barriers, including the possibility of shared graduate schemes with industry and building more transferable qualifications, however, this and other discussions highlighted the need for a clearer Skills Roadmap.  For example, work on one was begun in the mid-2000s but no clear outcome is visible to the wider industry. This is in contrast with technology for which the high-level roadmap completed at the same time was fundamental in creating the funding support for the Aerospace Technology Institute, which has over £2 billion funding. However, the industry finds it more difficult to predict future skills needs, than technology changes. A representative of the Aerospace Growth Partnership mentioned that some of the skills issues should soon start to be addressed as UKTI Employer Ownership Pilot 2 funding has been agreed which will in particular support more apprenticeships in aerospace. Although, in terms of engagement with young people, AGP funding is not yet confirmed and is proving more difficult to secure and perhaps where greater collaboration between aerospace, defence, aviation, space etc. may prove essential given the limited resources for non-recruitment related outreach activities. 

The RAeS Careers and Education Manager highlighted that it was important not to dismiss the current cohort of students in FE and HE courses related to aerospace and aviation, many of whom actually struggle to find employment in the sector. Reasons can include: getting a 2:2 in their degree (does this really mean the end of their career?); poor A Level results (used even in graduate recruitment selection criteria); nationality restrictions; lack of clear graduate path (e.g. hard-to-find SMEs and lack of formal graduate schemes and/or other visible graduate entry roles in airports/airlines/SMEs); and lack of relevant work experience available during their studies. With events such as Careers in Aerospace LIVE (the Society’s annual recruitment fair), being over-subscribed it is important not to forget this audience who may have been encouraged to take these courses on the promise of a skills shortage in the sector and where some creative solutions to help them transfer into useful roles may benefit the industry and avoid future shortages.

Another issue highlighted was the lack of Department for Education (DfE) presence both on the ESC and many other external, skills-related committees, with attendees noting that while existing Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Transport support was welcomed, DfE presence is an essential link in the chain, given the need to ensure education in schools and colleges remains relevant to career pathways.

Pilot training, and specifically the costs, also came under the spotlight. While there are potential cost reductions for trainees and greater employer support being made available through the Higher Apprenticeship/BSc (Hons) degree  model, the costs are, as one attendee said, “still seen as prohibitive for many”. There could even be a move towards higher training costs for participants in Air Traffic Control training and as the audience pointed out, many young people from socially disadvantaged areas are desperate for a career, but perceive financial barriers such as these as impossible to overcome, and are therefore dissuaded right from the outset.

Overall, the audience provided some valuable feedback and many offers of support to the ESC, and to support the Society’s existing work in outreach, careers awareness and employability, as well improving the Society’s responses to Government policy inquiries etc.

Next steps 

In summary, some of the key issues for further ESC consideration which were recommended by attendees include:

Greater representation of education stakeholders (both at Government and provider level) 
More military focus with senior military representation
Focus on supporting areas where there is less existing activity
Encouraging and fostering dialogue between existing groups both within the Society (such as Specialist Groups) and externally, such as AGP
Using the Society publications and relevant events to promote successful programmes and projects and encourage knowledge sharing

Education and Skills Conference – October 2014

Finally, the Society’s second Education and Skills Conference will take place on 1 October 2014 and examine some of the issues raised in more detail. The conference aims to bring together a wider group of educators, policy-makers, funding organisations, not-for-profit organisations, employers and training providers to encourage sharing, coordination and greater impact. 

If you have a paper you would like to have considered for presentation at the conference under one of the four categories – Operators, Facilitators, Originators and Enablers – please contact: 

Conference Sponsorship packages are also available for the event. For full details please contact: 

Education and Skills Committee
3 June 2014