As the expected launch of air taxi and other advanced air mobility (AAM) services using electric takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) nears, excitement increases over the new transportation options and significant economic opportunities they’ll hold. But a recent report warns that unless both older and new aviation companies do a better job recruiting and maintaining their engineers, a growing shortage of those critical employees will prevent nascent aerial activity from fulfilling its potential.
The study was conducted by the hydrogen technology promoting Hysky Society for the Vertical Flight Society (VFS), and was based on employee audits of both legacy aviation companies and startups. It determined that difficulties many of those businesses already face in filling engineering positions will increase due to an expect shortfall of 10,000 of those qualified employees over the next decade.
Critical to retaining workers already on the job and potential recruits, the report says, is improved “diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)” policies.
The worsening dearth of engineers has been aggravated by legacy aircraft having to compete with startups developing eVTOL craft for AAM services for employees. Yet recruits to those next-generation aircraft companies don’t always feel either their work – or they, personally – are more appreciated by their employers than they were at their former positions, and decide to join the army of other workers in the “Great Resignation.”
That leads to qualified staff shortages that wind up being very expensive to address, and which can lead to slowdowns in aircraft program progress.
“VFS estimates that each clean-sheet civil VTOL aircraft development requires on the order of $1B, a decade of development, and 1,000 employees to get to certification,” the report says. “It costs a company about $1M to replace one highly skilled engineer, so high attrition rates can be detrimental.”
That’s especially true given the remarkably high turnover rates within the aviation sector.
“The legacy Aerospace and Defense industry has 2x the attrition rates than that of the national average” the study says. “The Advanced Air Mobility sector likely has 4x attrition rates of the national average. Workplace ostracism is likely a major cause.”
The key to companies – and, indeed, the wider eVTOL sector –retaining current engineers and inducing students to study the discipline with AAM work in mind are the same, the study says. Making a wider range of individuals feel valued and treated equally at regimented legacy companies and startups alike is a must to ensuring next-generation aircraft potentials aren’t undermined by staffing shortages.
“The most impactful metric to predict employee retention is whether or not employees feel valued and appreciated at work,” the report notes. “An employee’s perceived value is more important than their salary amount.”
The very detailed study backs up its analysis with telling figures reflecting considerable under-representation of women and people of color in both legacy aviation companies and those producing eVTOL for AAM services. It also produces a list of the kinds of ostracism frequently reported by unhappy staffers – much of which, fortunately, could be remedied by fairly easy practices of inclusion and feedback.
But the bottom line in resolving the turnover problem – especially among the critical engineer category – is for eVTOL companies to recruit employees, and interest more engineering students in an AAM career by making greater numbers of happy, fulfilled women and people of color on their staffs ambassadors for recruitment objectives. And that’s going to take some real work.
“Examining the challenges of the future vertical workforce is not about being ‘woke’,” the study says. “It’s about collecting and analyzing data to understand what causes someone to be attracted to a company, feel valued, and want to stay… Companies that haven’t taken DEI data seriously yet are not likely to do so until it’s too late.”