Bristol News

Airbus chief says innovation is key to nurturing skills among next generation

Share Article

Written by: Bristol Post | Posted 27 September 2016 7:42

Airbus chief says innovation is key to nurturing skills among next generation

The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) in Filton has launched the new season of its Bristol Distinguished Address Series with a lecture by one of the UK's leading aerospace industry executives, Mark Stewart, general manager and human resources director, Airbus Operations Ltd and HR director Airbus Group UK.

The aim of the eight weekly lectures by leading industry executives is to highlight how highly trained, skilled graduates from progressive universities such as UWE Bristol can promote growth and innovation across the UK's manufacturing sectors. UWE Bristol has more than doubled the number of engineering graduates it trains to well over 1,000 – providing work experience along the way with employers in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The majority of these graduates enter engineering jobs in the region.

Speaking to the audience of some 200 students, academics and business people on the topic of Developing the right skills for the future of the UK aerospace industry, Mr Stewart said that he is passionate about his sector. “I have been working in aerospace for 31 years. I want to give something back to the industry to ensure that others can have the same opportunities that I've had. That's why developing skills is so important and a passion for me.”

mark stewart

Mr Stewart (pictured) set the scene by explaining why the aerospace industry is so important to both the global economy and to the UK's – and why leading companies such as Airbus and SMEs working in the aerospace sector are dependent on highly skilled people for their continued growth.

Aerospace drives the global economy, he explained. The statistics are impressive: aviation supports 62.7 million jobs globally; it contributes $2.7 trillion to the global economy annually; more than 33,000 new aircraft will be required by airlines over the coming 20 years, at a cost of $5.2 trillion.

And the UK has a significant stake in this expanding global industry: we have a 17 per cent share of the market, with Europe's largest aerospace manufacturing sector, second only to the United States. 

Mr Stewart's own company, Airbus, is of course one of the leading players in aerospace. Its Commercial division alone – one of three within Airbus Group – employs 55,000 people globally and it has an order book for 10 years.

For Airbus in the UK, the main sites are Filton and Broughton, in north Wales, designing and producing the highly advanced wings, the landing gear, and the fuel integration system. Broughton is the larger site and assembles Airbus wings – more than 1,000 a year for around 600 airliners.

At Filton, the intellectual jewel in the crown for the company, Airbus employs 4,000 including some 1,600 highly skilled designers, engineers and other specialists.

There is a well-deserved pride in the UK's expertise. The British-based part of the company likes to say “we make it fly… if it weren't for the contribution of the UK business, Airbus would just be a bus.”

The statistics highlight the importance to the nation: 250,000 direct and indirect jobs in the UK depend on aerospace; 4,100 apprentices are in training in the sector; there has been a 30% increase in productivity within aerospace in the past five years – compared with a lowly average of around 2% for UK manufacturing as a whole. As a result there has been a 39% increase in revenue from the sector.

But, according to Mr Stewart, having the most efficient supply chain and most advanced manufacturing technology available won't, on its own, keep UK aerospace first in Europe and second in the world. What is critical is people with the skills to innovate and exploit the current and the future technology – and companies in the field are working hard to ensure there is a growing supply of the right people.

A survey of SMEs operating in the sector by ADS – the UK trade body for Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space – identified skills gaps in engineering and, despite an increase, apprenticeships. As a result, aerospace companies developed a strategy to target specific areas of skills and training needs. As a first step the sector and government together contributed £6 million to fund 500 MSc students, who are now working on a range of aerospace-related subjects.

The strategy also focused on defining 15 new aerospace and aviation-focused 'Trailblazer' apprenticeships, as well as an employer ownership pilot, where industry puts 'money on the table' to support training. Links with universities, including UWE Bristol, have been important in addressing skills shortages. Plus, with the Royal Aeronautical Society, there's a programme to improve diversity and opportunities for women, including a mentoring programme to help them develop their skills at a senior level.

Working with the aerospace SMEs to understand where they see continued skills shortage is another key approach for industry, Mr Stewart said. “SMEs are fantastic at thinking about what they need in terms of raw materials and new equipment and machinery, but less good at managing the basics in relation to succession and resource planning and skills adaptation.”

To continue to be successful in aerospace, he added, SMEs need to realise that they are operating in a fast-paced, global marketplace and they must to focus on the right things: not just their turnover but also the skills they need today to be able to deliver tomorrow.

An audio replay of Mr Stewart's talk is now available, along with a link to his presentation.

The Bristol Distinguished Address Series is held every Wednesday at 6pm. More details are availablehere.

Share Article