Labour challenges in the aerospace sector


For the past three years, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal has been partnering with Aéro Montréal to organize an event during International Aerospace Week. This year’s event took the form of a business luncheon on April 20 that brought together the Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity, François Blais, and representatives of global leaders in the aerospace industry, CAE, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Bell Helicopter, for a panel that offered a snapshot of the aerospace industry and its labour issues.

32,000 positions to fill in the next 10 years

“This event is taking place against a very particular backdrop of labour scarcity,” said Suzanne Benoît, president and CEO of Aéro Montréal, at the start of the panel discussion. “Labour scarcity is the stage preceding a shortage. We still have time to act.”

The Comité sectoriel de main-d’oeuvre en aérospatiale (sectoral committee on labour in aerospace) recently published some telling numbers. Over the next 10 years, Québec will have to fill almost 32,000 positions to meet demand in the sector. The aging population and the wave of retirements will leave close to 22,800 positions vacant, and the advent of new technologies will create over 8,800 new jobs. But in the face of the scope of the challenge, the Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity was reassuring. With the $810 million earmarked in the 2018-2023 National Workforce Strategy, being released in the spring, François Blais is confident that we will meet “the labour needs of the aerospace industry.”

The importance of attracting and training young talent

To tackle the labour challenge, companies in the industry are working closely with universities, technical colleges and specialized schools that offer aerospace training. Despite concerted efforts, the some 4,800 students graduating each year from these programs will not be sufficient to fill vacant positions. Often perceived as typically male, highly technical and in a sector that is hard to break into, jobs in the aerospace industry are misunderstood. This has a direct impact on the number of students registered for specialized training programs, which has been dropping for the past two years.

“Our greatest challenge is convincing young people – and their parents – to choose careers in aerospace,” Ms. Benoît said.

With 20 years of experience in human resources in the industry, Pratt & Whitney Canada president Kevin Smith is convinced there is still much to be done to attract new workers.

“People need to get to know us and understand that the jobs we are talking about today are good jobs that pay well and that offer good working conditions and health and safety standards that are second to none. These are not outdated plants; it’s high tech and highly complex.”

Many opportunities

Hélène Gagnon, vice-president of CAE, believes that beyond salary, which is higher than the average salary in Québec, the industry offers flexible working conditions that appeal to younger generations. Aerospace also offers rewarding work.

“Young people essentially have one goal: they want to make a difference, to change the world,” Ms. Gagnon said. “When they realize that working in aerospace, for example in the flight simulator at CAE, includes the idea of security, that resonates a lot more with them.”

To attract more young talent, every year the industry offers 250 to 300 paid internships. Working with universities, companies in the industry recently created a national aerospace institute and a fund for internship grants. There are plenty of opportunities for students and young workers in the industry.

A cultural shift required

Despite the many opportunities and attractive working conditions, experts on the panel were unanimous: to tackle the labour challenge, the aerospace sector needs to make a major cultural shift.

The industry is predominantly male, and women account for only 30% of its employees. According to Cynthia Garneau, president of Bell Helicopter Textron, a change in leadership styles is required. “Initially it takes managers who firmly believe in the value women bring to companies.” This is also an issue of diversity. More openness in the industry is fundamental to attracting young talent.

“We have to break down the image of a highly traditional industry,” said Ms. Garneau, who holds a bachelor of laws. “We need to review and take a different approach to the qualifications we are seeking for positions. We have to be less restrictive, consider other candidate profiles and believe and trust in those profiles. We have to be open to allow diversity to become part of who we are.”

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