Demographic trends in aerospace

Different industries have different demographic characteristics. This is not a particularly surprising observation. As a young adult, I had jobs in industries that employ a high proportion of youth, including restaurants and retail. Other industries such as manufacturing, education and government are characterized by older workforces.

I recently discussed the age structure of Washington’s aerospace manufacturing industry at the Women in Aerospace Luncheon sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance.

Aerospace is one of Washington’s key industries in terms of employment. Last year, there was an average of 144 aerospace products and parts manufacturers in Washington state, employing nearly 96,000. And this doesn’t even count suppliers throughout the aerospace supply chain!

Aerospace is also an industry that is generally known to have an aging workforce, which potentially creates a number of challenges for the industry and for our state. Employment Security Department Commissioner Dale Peinecke was recently featured in a cover story by the Puget Sound Business Journal addressing questions about the growing need for skilled aerospace workers.

The graph below illustrates the portion of the aerospace workforce by age cohort. In 1991, 25 to 44 year-olds made up the largest portion of the workforce. Ten years later, the “typical” worker was more likely to be between age 35 and 54, and by 2012, more than 60 percent of the workforce was age 45 or older. Notably, an estimated 25 percent was age 55 or older in 2012.

Of course, part of this can be explained by simply acknowledging that the workforce at large is aging. Baby boomers are reaching traditional retirement age, and remain a significant part of the workforce. However, the demographic shift over time toward an older workforce in aerospace is more exaggerated than patterns in total industry employment, so an aging workforce only begins to explain the shift.

Another interesting demographic trend is that women make up an estimated 25 percent of the workforce in Washington aerospace, and that this has remained relatively unchanged over the past two decades.

I find this interesting in its own right, but where this type of information becomes truly compelling is when decision makers – whether they are policy makers, educators, job seekers or students—use this information to ask the questions that ultimately get translated into action.

Several questions come to my mind:
• “Is there a reason that young people are not employed in Aerospace?”
• “Why hasn’t the portion of women in aerospace changed in 20 years?”
• “Will it be difficult for the aerospace industry to replace older workers when they retire?”

What questions come to your mind?

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Anneliese Vance-Sherman is the labor market economist covering Island, King, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom Counties for the Employment Security Department (ESD).


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