UK aerospace restructuring: jobs, skills and high-performance work


Forecasting changes in employment and skills needs across the sector and mapping changes in work organization associated with high-performance work.

The global aerospace sector is experiencing unprecedented turbulence. Air travel has dramatically diminished during the pandemic and should remain lower given the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. Anticipating reduced passenger air miles, airlines have already downsized operations, so demand for commercial aircraft will fall. Military aircraft demand follows a different trajectory in this segmented industry, but in all sub-sectors supply chains in aircraft manufacture are long and complex, encompassing foundation industries and high-tech developers. The lead time from order to delivery with aircraft is long, so even as aeroplanes are being built to fulfil orders in progress, most aerospace firms, including Rolls Royce, Magellan, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems and Airbus have already all announced significant job losses, totalling tens of thousands.  

This project will investigate skills and employment prospects in aerospace and consider how skills development and deployment can be optimized in a period of profound volatility. New technologies of production and product innovation will also have an impact on jobs and skills. Working with industry partners, we will develop and deploy a sector change model in aerospace and a methodology to forecast future skills needs and reduce skills mismatches and labour shortages.  

The project will also explore the extent to which work organization in aerospace facilitates and necessitates continuous training and human capital formation. Case studies of individual aerospace firms in the UK have shown innovative skills development strategies. Aerospace appears, prima facie, to be an ideal setting for developing high performance work: the workforce is highly skilled, production is capital-intensive, and the cost of error is high. However, extant research has questioned the effectiveness of skill development in aerospace and the realities of high-performance work.   

Publications and outputs

Report: Restructuring of UK aerospace, April 2023