The aerospace and defense sector — a hub of engineering prowess and innovation — is a cornerstone of California’s manufacturing landscape. 

More than most other industries, aerospace and defense depends on a highly skilled, specialized, and technical workforce to achieve continuous growth and success. This specialization results in a limited pool of top-tier candidates, making the competition between manufacturers intense and the stakes high. 

To make matters more complicated, many younger workers are leaving the industry for jobs in the automotive and tech sectors. At the same time, older workers are preparing for retirement at an unprecedented rate.

So, hiring is only half the battle. You also have to retain your top talent. Because when employees leave, the company loses out in terms of time, money, and various other resources, with total estimated costs of each turnover ranging from 90% to 200% of an ex-employee’s annual salary.  

So, how do you attract and keep top talent in this hyper-competitive hiring environment?  

Here’s what you need to know...

Step 1: Assess Current Workforce Needs

When it comes to aerospace and defense recruitment, your first task is to identify specific skill requirements needed in a quality candidate. Effective hiring goes beyond finding talented individuals. It’s about alignment with the role as well as the broader organizational company culture.  

To find a high-quality employee who can excel in the role from the outset and grow with the company, you need to understand the hard and soft skills essential to the role. This involves understanding the specialized expertise, character traits, and temperament that align with the given job. This harmony ensures short-term success and contributes to long-term retention by ensuring that the employee will feel challenged, valued, and fulfilled in their duties.

Naturally, the desired skills and weight you place on certain qualities will vary from role to role within the aerospace and defense sector. Mastery of aero-thermodynamics might be crucial for a flight engineer, whereas leadership and communication skills are crucial for a program manager.

Step 2: Analyze Future Workforce Demands

The aerospace and defense industry is evolving at a rapid pace. As organizations adopt modern factories during the fourth industrial revolution, it’s important to future-proof your recruitment strategy. This means you’ll need to look beyond your immediate needs and extrapolate. For instance, questions you can ask include: 

  • Where is the industry heading?
  • What new skills might become vital? 
  • What new technologies might impact the aerospace and defense sector as a whole?
  • What technologies will transform specific workflows or tasks? 

By proactively planning ahead, you can foster a workforce ready to meet the evolving needs of the aerospace and defense sector. Additionally, this foresight enables you to begin training current employees in new skill areas rather than solely focusing on hiring replacement workers, which goes a long way with employee retention. The blend of hiring aligned talent and ongoing talent development empowers you to build solid and adaptable teams, which is a necessity in such a competitive industry.

Step 3: Talent Acquisition Strategies

With so much competition, aerospace and defense manufacturers must follow a multifaceted approach to talent acquisition. What this looks like will likely vary depending on your specific talent needs. However, three impactful strategies include: 

  1.  Utilizing job boards, industry platforms, and recruitment agencies: These channels are critical in reaching a broader pool of potential candidates. Job boards can target the specialized skills needed, while industry platforms and recruitment agencies often have networks that connect you directly with experienced professionals.

  2.  Building relationships with educational institutions: In recent years, companies like Lockheed Martin have been partnering with colleges, universities, and vocational training centers to recruit talent right from the classroom. These partnerships provide a unique opportunity to shape and influence emerging professionals, aligning them with company-specific methods and culture before they can be exposed to differing practices elsewhere. Establishing internships and cooperative education experiences with these institutions provides hands-on training and opens a continuous talent pipeline tailored to your organization's needs. This proactive approach isn’t just about finding aerospace and defense candidates — it’s about creating them.

  3.  Tapping into local networks and industry associations: Local professional networks and industry-specific associations, like the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Defense Industrial Association, are also valuable recruiting resources. They often house untapped talent and foster collaboration, providing opportunities to find professionals who may not be actively looking but could be enticed, given the right opportunity. Engaging with these networks keeps your finger on the pulse of the local talent market, ensuring alignment with current and future workforce demands.

To attract the right talent, you need to build a brand and culture that people want to be a part of. Don’t forget the power of showcasing your company’s strengths, culture, and unique selling points while highlighting opportunities for growth and development to new candidates.

Step 4: Retaining Top Talent 

Though the aerospace and defense industry has plenty of intriguing job opportunities, the industry as a whole is rarely a job searcher’s first choice. That means when you do make a quality hire, you need to keep them on the payroll. The longer, the better, so long as they continue to provide ROI. But, this can be challenging, as it's common for competitors to recruit top talent with enticing offers that are often too good to pass up. 

So, how do you make sure that this doesn’t happen?  

  • Competitive compensation and benefits – Offer competitive wages and comprehensive benefits packages to align with industry standards and individual performance. Creative incentives such as bonuses, stock options, or hybrid work can add motivation and make your organization stand out.
  • Career growth and encouragement – Develop clear career paths and progression opportunities that encourage internal promotions. Recognize these achievements as powerful motivators, showing your commitment to employee growth.
  • Career support and leadership advancement – Once you’ve developed a clear roadmap, provide financial opportunities for continuous skill enhancement via upskilling initiatives. Offering mentorship and coaching programs and investing in training programs and certifications can strengthen relationships and cultivate future leaders in the aerospace and defense sector.
  • Positive work environment – Build a supportive and inclusive workplace culture focusing on diversity and collaboration. Promote work-life balance and flexible work arrangements and boost morale through regular recognition and rewards.

Remember the power of two-way communication. When you empower employees and encourage feedback and involvement, you bring them into the conversation and make them a part of the retention strategies.

How CMTC Can Help You Acquire and Retain Aerospace and Defense Talent

Finding and retaining skilled aerospace and defense workers can be a daunting task — it requires a strategic approach that encompasses understanding current and future skill demands, multifaceted acquisition strategies, and retention through compensation, growth opportunities, positive work culture, and continuous support.

Need assistance? 

At CMTC, we offer targeted solutions that aerospace and defense manufacturers can leverage to attract, develop, and retain skilled A&D talent. Our tailored programs cover everything from workforce planning and skills assessment to training and employee upskilling. 

Contact us today to explore how CMTC can assist your aerospace and defense manufacturing organization in building and developing a robust and capable workforce.

Manufacturers Guide to Human Resources

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