The workforce skills gap is a broad problem across the manufacturing sector - made infinitely more complex by the COVID-19 crisis - but especially for government and industry stakeholders in the Aerospace and Defense domain. According to a study conducted by Deloitte Digital, there is a skills gap in the manufacturing industry that may leave 2.4M positions unfilled by 2028. Similar studies in the national security space support these findings.
The shortages have been driven by a perfect storm of five key factors, each compounding the others. Let’s look at them in more depth.
A significant number of experienced manufacturing artisans are now leaving the workforce. The Society for Human Resource Management states, “A high percentage of workers are eligible to retire in manufacturing—58% in 1-2 years and 52% in 3-5 years.” There is little doubt these high numbers are contributing to the skills gap. To address the loss of knowledge, a new generation must be recruited and trained quickly.
Aerospace manufacturing jobs are not viewed as positively as they once were, because those entering the workforce today do not necessarily aspire to work in a factory environment. According to a recent poll by the Fabrication and Manufacturing Association, 61% of teenagers perceived that a manufacturing career entailed a “dirty, dangerous place that requires little thinking or skill from its workers and offers a minimal opportunity for personal growth or career advancement.” We must find a way to overcome this perception.
Another situation - the aerospace manufacturing environment is rife with paper instructions. When given a paper manual, most newly minted employees will immediately ask if it has a corresponding video online. As we all know, paper instructions are often outdated and ineffective.
Additionally, training is expensive and is not always a top priority for an organization. Training quality is also poor and outdated in many cases. The industry often trains “broadly for just-in-case” versus “narrowly for just-in-time.”
Finally, IndustryWeek determined that “75% of manufacturing leaders cite on the floor job shadowing as the most effective method, yet scheduling, lost productivity, measurement, and retention pose significant challenges.” As a result, the most effective method of training is often underutilized. Why is this?
While nothing can be done to slow the retirement rate of experienced workers, there are smart ways to address its effects. Augmented reality (AR) technology can help to invert these headwinds into once-in-a- generation opportunities for efficiency gain and risk reduction.
For example, AR can capture the knowledge of retiring employees through dynamic, highly associative processes. It is now possible to have a manufacturing shop floor worker use a hands-free wearable device (HoloLens) to create a video recording of a complex manufacturing procedure. That content is then associated with CAD data to create a visual and auditory training experience for a new employee. Because it is using multi senses, it closely replicates the process of an in-person ‘shadowing’ experience, and to an infinite number of new entrants (vs a 1:1 ratio). In some ways, this training is even superior to an in-person session because a user can replay a problem spot for clarification repeatedly.
Another example; if a CAD file is updated to reflect a product design change, it can now be immediately updated in a training module for equipment manufacturing vs. reprinting dozens of outdated manuals. Many AR use cases have demonstrated a 50% reduction in training time and a 10X faster time for documentation of Standard Operating Procedures. By making it more relevant and cost-effective, AR instantly catapults training to a higher priority, strategic endeavor in the enterprise. It also helps to abate the perception problem by appealing to a younger and more technically savvy workforce, already comfortable in AR environments.
None of this was possible 10 years ago. But it’s here now. To learn more about AR for Aerospace and Defense, contact H. Brent Baker, Sr., VP Federal Aerospace and Defense at firstname.lastname@example.org.