Enrique Sosa
President
Aeronautical University in Queretaro
/
Expert Contributor

The Hard, Soft Skills of the Future Aerospace Professional

By Enrique Sosa | Thu, 07/28/2022 - 11:00

Given the complex and dynamic nature of the aerospace industry and facing continuous technological trends, professionals working in this field need to gain new hard and soft skills if they want to keep their jobs. Higher educational institutions have the responsibility to anticipate these future skills in order to integrate them into their programs as key deliverables to students.

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Job Report 2020,” 50 percent of all employees will need reskilling by 2025, as adoption of technology increases, fueled by the pandemic that the world has suffered since 2019. According to the report, COVID-19 is pushing companies to scale remote work by 83 percent, to accelerate digitalization by 84 percent and to accelerate automation by 50 percent as plans for business adaptation.

As part of the results obtained by the working group created to draft the Strategic Agenda of Higher Education Institutions for the Aeronautical and Space Sectors 2030 (The Agenda will be presented to the society by the SEP -Mexican Federal Education Ministry-, the third quarter of 2022), made up of nearly 70 academics, researchers and executives from 31 universities and institutes of technology with aerospace programs throughout Mexico, a database was compiled with more than 70 studies and articles that were reviewed. The goal was to draft a proposal of the technical skills (hard skills) and organizational skills (soft skills) that a professional graduating from these institutions must develop by the time they finish their studies.

The Challenge of Defining the Hard Skills of the Future

With the objective of defining the group of hard skills to which the aerospace professionals of the future should have access and which should be available in educational programs at higher educational institutions, the working group of The Agenda was given the task of selecting studies of great importance in the sector in order to find future trends that will impact the different sub-industries on which the aerospace sector is divided (MRO, air operations, manufacturing, etc.). Some of the studies that were analyzed were: The Market Forecast 2017-2036 of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, the Airbus Global Market Forecast – Growing Horizons 2017-2036, and the Boeing Current Market Outlook 2017-2036, to mention just a few.

This analysis resulted in the creation of a summary with the most important technological trends that, due to the productive strengths of Mexico, will have greater opportunity to reach our country. Here is a summary:

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Based on the analysis of these trends and interviews with different actors from Airbus, Safran and West Virginia University, the proposal of The Agenda lists 20 hard skills that future aerospace professionals must develop, where four are classified with greater importance and another four are very difficult to find. See the following matrix:

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Fifty percent of these hard skills will be related to computer science, where future professionals must have the knowledge to manage huge amounts of information that they are going to fuse in unified databases, using programs developed by themselves to predict events as a result of applying algorithms of artificial intelligence.

The deployment of projects in an international scenario and in an accelerated way, represents 10 percent of the future hard skills, while the rest have to do with future aerospace technologies, including electric aircraft, hydrogen motors and knowledge about batteries, to mention the most representative.

The Importance of Soft Skills in a Global Economy

According to Aviation Pros magazine (Hill, 2015), when aerospace personnel (pilots, maintenance technicians, customer service, flight attendants, directors, managers, supervisors, etc.) are asked about the daily challenges in their jobs, surprisingly, 90 percent of those surveyed report problems related to the personality of individuals, human interaction and even communication problems.

The collaborative environment of the future will require that aerospace professionals be able to function internationally, interact and communicate with co-workers from different parts of the world, in different languages and time zones, and with different cultures and values, reporting to different bosses within matrix-based schemes. In environments like this, communication skills will be key to their success.

The following table details the 15 soft skills that professionals of the future must acquire or develop:

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There are seven soft skills that were classified as having “greater importance and the scarcest.” In an additional classification of these 15 skills, surprisingly, 33 percent have to do with the personal development of professionals on their own (growth mindset, self-motivation and self-confidence, etc.); 33% are related to interactions with the work team (communication, teamwork and leadership and social influence, among others), and the rest are skills like creativity, innovation and solving complex problems, whose development represents a challenge to any organization responsible for professionals acquiring these skills.

Conclusions

To develop such hard and soft skills without the help and synergy of the aerospace sector is an almost impossible task to accomplish. The higher educational institutions must promote projects hand in hand with aerospace companies, where future aerospace professionals have the opportunity to interact with real environments and where teachers are able to update their knowledge and their own competencies.

National projects could be led by federal and local governments that will allow a close linkage between the aerospace sector and academia, increasing the opportunity for students to gain this set of skills for the future. With this idea in mind, it is necessary the deployment of high-impact projects. Among the most representative in regard to soft and hard skills are: the creation of the National Dual Education System and Business Stays for Teachers, just to mention a couple.

The Strategic Agenda of Higher Education Institutions for the Aeronautical and Space Sectors 2030, to be unveiled by Mexican Federal Government this year, is a highly strategic document that has already considered the challenges of hard and soft skills for the aerospace professionals of the future.

References

Whiting, K. (2020). These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them. 18-oct-2021, de Word Economic Forum Sitio web: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them/

Hill, C. (18 de August de 2015). Soft Skills Have Hard Value. Obtenido de Aviation Pros: https://www.aviationpros.com/education-training/article/12091734/soft-skills-have-hard-value

Photo by:   Enrique Sosa