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  • Jeb Lyne

A few thoughts on tackling A&D Production Challenges (Part 1 - Labor)

As many of you know, I have a strong passion for operations, especially in businesses that manufacture highly engineered products. This post focuses on the A&D industry but is also conceptually applicable to other sectors I have the privilege of working with, such as automotive, diversified industrials, and life sciences. 

I’ve been catching up on Aviation Week's Check 6 podcast (Check 6 Podcast | Aviation Week Network, highly recommended for anyone who is interested in all things aerospace), which sparked a thought on the persistent challenges the A&D industry continues to face in production and MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul). 

Tier 1, 2, and 3 suppliers are struggling to produce enough conforming parts to meet OEM requirements for building new aircraft or fulfilling MRO operations' requirements for maintaining existing aircraft. The challenges mainly stem from shortages in one or more of the following: 

  • Conforming material 

  • Facilities, equipment, or other infrastructure 

  • Skilled and qualified labor 

Each of these shortages manifests differently in a plant, but there are core solutions. Today, I'll dig into the labor aspects. 

Workforce demographic shifts accelerated by COVID and reduced workforce entry into the A&D industry have contributed to the dilemma. As more people retire, the lack of younger industry entrants highlights long-term problems. 

In an Aviation Week column from last March, Michael Bruno (Why The Aerospace Industry's Workforce Issues Will Endure | Aviation Week Network, 29 March 2023) discussed at length the impact to the A&D world that attrition and a shortage of new entrants was causing.

These issues persist.

The below graphic further illustrates the A&D industry's labor challenge and, based on all industry forecasts I've seen, this challenge will continue.

Source: My analysis of Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) Facts and Figures – US Aerospace and Defense documents, 2018-2023. URL: 

I've learned to categorize labor shortage into two broad groups, making it easier to understand the labor shortage problem and figure out how to address it: 

  1. Scarcity-driven (e.g., exquisite skills): This applies to specialized, hard-to-source niche skills such as electro-optical engineers or titanium welders. The easy to say but hard to execute fix is to restructure product roadmaps, redesign products, or rethink production processes to require less of the needed skill or to somehow hire more individuals with that skill. 

  2. Expectations and behavior-driven: This encompasses most other roles, with symptoms like burnt-out employees, personal heroics and frequent “firefighting” manifested in excessively long days with frequent unplanned overtime, quality issues, and missed deliveries. Although hiring more people can help, the real challenge often cannot be fixed by hiring since these shortages are caused by a mix of people not aligning with the company's goals or productivity expectations. Efficient production requires setting clear expectations, incentives, and management availability, etc. 

The bottom line is that the amount of labor available is going down, but the workload is ramping up...doing more of the same will not work and the place to start is by getting rid of the work that isn’t tied directly to delivering conforming product and by tying everyone’s success to meeting customer and company requirements. After that, other solutions can come into play. 

Please let me know your thoughts...did you find this valuable? Did I miss something or is there something you’d like me to go deeper into? I’d love to discuss! 

In the meantime, I plan to explore in upcoming posts the other two shortages (material and infrastructure) and delve deeper into potential solutions for these challenges. Stay tuned! 

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