The air superiority talent challenge: why small can be powerful for aerospace defence and security firms

| Mar 09, 2016

For all firms – large and small – in the aerospace, defence and security sector, engineering talent is in high demand. And, as a number of reports have highlighted, the availability of talent in the UK is likely to fall short of anticipated requirements over the next few years. Traditionally, larger firms have made the investments in recruitment strategies that have enabled them to attract the greatest amount of attention from the widest pool of undergraduates about to enter the workforce. But, in recent years there has been a discernible shift in what the younger generation is looking for from their potential future employers. And their changing preferences could, in fact, offer a major boost to the ability of smaller businesses to attract the engineering talent they need.

Research by PwC over the last few years points to attitudinal shifts towards the world of work. Those coming to the job market today tend to think more carefully about the type of employer that they want to work for, and weigh up a broader range of considerations than their predecessors when making their selection.

Larger employers have the benefits of scale and an established approach to recruitment and training that enables them to offer a highly structured and programmatic approach to the first few years of work that new graduates will enter. However while that sort of offering will remain attractive to many potential recruits, it does not necessarily meet all of the emerging criteria that the new generation may have. For example, working flexibly is seen as very attractive to many of the so-called ‘millennial’ generation. Smaller enterprises are likely to have been able to develop a distinct identity that can have a particular appeal to specific candidates. Smaller, more agile and innovative firms may be pushing the envelope in terms of new technology, and this too is likely to resonate strongly with a key constituency.

A small business can offer an immersive experience in the life of the whole business. It’s also likely that responsibility may arise faster with an entry-level position in a small business. Along with that comes a better knowledge of the overall value/supply chain that the business is part of, and a breadth of expertise that the largest businesses, with their focus on role specialisation, are unable to match. The flexibility that a small business has to customise what it offers to new recruits can also extend to remuneration packages and incentives. It may, for example, be able to offer some form of equity participation or ownership in the business at a much earlier stage in a career than its larger counterparts would typically provide.

It’s clear that smaller businesses have a lot to offer potential recruits whose expectations and reasons for selecting employers are changing fast. However, in order to make the most of those opportunities smaller businesses need to achieve greater visibility to their pool of potential workers. Large companies have dedicated graduate departments, big budgets for advertising and invest substantially in ensuring a high profile on the Milk Round. Competing head on is simply a non-starter for smaller companies. A more strategic and selective approach is required. And that’s likely to start with a clear inventory of the factors that might make a small business attractive.

Armed with that knowledge, the next step is to identify the most likely source of the candidates who would find those employer attributes most attractive. That may require some research into a selection of the right channels for communications such as social media and online forums. It may mean forging links with a local university’s engineering school to establish a profile among undergraduates – offering extended work placement.

Small enterprises can’t compete with the resources of the largest businesses. But with a considered and creative approach, they may find that they can punch above their weight when it comes to attracting the attention of the best candidates.

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