Skills crunch hits aero suppliers.
Aerospace SMEs can’t keep pace with booming sector.
The global market for aerospace is growing faster than the British suppliers who serve it and there are formidable challenges in terms of skills shortages, the boss of a leading aerospace SME has said.
Andrew Churchill, managing director of JJ Churchill, which makes around 80,000 engine blades a year and employs more than 140 staff, said that while there was no doubt aerospace suppliers were benefiting from a booming industry, they were hard-pressed to find enough skilled staff. JJ Churchill could do with several more workers in order to meet demand and was relying on extensive amounts of overtime to serve customers, he said.
“Decent engineers are simply not available, so good apprenticeship schemes are more important than ever. You cannot simply rely on the marketplace, you need to train people as well.”
Churchill said his company was preparing for the future by participating in the Rolls-Royce and Regional Growth Fund-backedSharing in Growth scheme, which awarded it £1 million earlier in the year. “The supply chain companies into aerospace are growing; but the market and the opportunities are growing faster in percentage terms than our share of it.”
It was not always easy to hold on to skilled engineers when OEMs could offer higher salaries than suppliers, he said. “We can afford to be generous, but we can’t afford to be stupid.”
About 5% of JJ Churchill’s workforce were apprentices, he said. “If I see a youngster with the right attitude and aptitude, we’ll take them on. We’ve lost only one apprentice in 12 years. You need to have the foresight in the business plan to recruit.”
According to aerospace and defence trade association ADS, the aircraft order book is worth up to £160 billion to the economy. The order book reached a new record this year, with a spectacularly successful Farnborough Airshow, the busiest in its history, playing a major role. The British aerospace industry is the second biggest in the world and the largest in Europe.
JJ Churchill was expanding its horizons overseas and had set up a gas turbine blade production facility in Guaymas, Mexico. First product was expected to be shipped to the plant’s major customer, Rolls-Royce Canada, based in Montreal, in April. That facility has recently been acquired by Siemens. Mexico was attractive because of free trade agreements it had with North America, Canada and Europe, Churchill explained. His company would enjoy a favourable tax regime and be able to export to the US without incurring tariffs. Guaymas already has a gas turbine engineering supply chain, Churchill said.