The so-called silver tsunami — the aging of the country’s population — will hit the aerospace industry especially hard. It received an influx of workers in the Apollo era, when the country’s space program was shooting for the moon and generating buzz. Cuts to that program in the mid- to late-1970s and 1980s, plus the Vietnam and Cold Wars, kept the industry from ever receiving a major infusion of fresh talent. As a result, the average age for an aerospace and defense workers is 45 — 47 for an aeronautical engineer — compared to the median age of 42 for all American workers, according to a survey by Aviation Week and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Aviation Week survey — which tallied responses from companies like Boeing (BA), BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin (LMT), and Northrop Grumman (NOC) — showed that this year 9.6% of employees, or 62,000 individuals, in aerospace and defense were eligible for retirement. That figure is set to increase by about two percentage points every year for the next four years, reaching 18.5% in 2017, the survey says. “There’s a wave of retirements coming” says Annalisa Weigel, a senior aerospace policy and economics lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The question is will they be able to replace that talent.”
The aerospace and defense industries are pondering that question carefully. Twenty-two percent of respondents to the Aviation Week survey said that the shortage of scientists and design engineers was the most significant factor affecting their organization’s ability to expand operations or deliver to customers, and 35% said that a highly skilled workforce will be the most important element to their organization’s success over the next three to five years.
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