SDL Skills Gap

It’s Crunch Time for Aerospace and Defense. Could Technical Docs Plug the Looming Skills Gap?

We’re on the cusp of an enormous skills gap in the aerospace and defense industry. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests employment within aerospace manufacturing has been on a steady decline since 2012. Back in 2000, there were 516,700 employed across the industry. And over the past three years numbers have dropped from 498,600 to 479,900.
As senior staff retire and take a wealth of knowledge with them, organizations are beginning to realize that technical publications are critical to sustaining newer team members’ productivity. These documents contain the knowledge, and years of experience from industry veterans, that today’s younger workforce lack. Thankfully, modern technologies are offering a new approach to technical publications, helping older workers share their knowledge in a simple, easy to understand way.
We sat down with Lou Iuppa, Vice President of SDL’s Government, Aerospace & Defense Business Unit, to discuss the big trends and challenges facing the industry, and how technical publications could bridge the knowledge gap between industry veterans and apprentices in the coming years.

So, Lou, let’s just jump right in. What are the top of mind issues for the aerospace and defense customers you’re speaking with these days?

As I hear from my industry contacts, the term “efficiency” keeps coming up – efficiency across the entire technical content supply chain. It’s about efficiency in the creation, delivery, understanding and utilization of the technical knowledge in every step in the product and service lifecycle.

Could you provide some examples of what you mean by efficiency? Perhaps by starting with what is meant by the “efficient utilization of technical knowledge”?

Historically, tech pubs have been used passively in the maintenance process. An issue or task arises, a work order is generated with the parts and tools required and the tech is assigned to complete the effort. The technician accesses the tech pub as a reference, either on paper or in the IETM . In other words, the information is passively pulled into the process, not proactively pushed.

As we move further into the fourth industrial revolution, assets are becoming more intelligent with innovations like IoT, AI, big data analytics, remote diagnostics and other emerging technologies. Proactive delivery of technical knowledge is possible as the assets themselves can now communicate intelligently with digitalized content. For example, our customers have embedded our technology into asset platforms so the diagnostics data in the tech pub can work with the onboard monitoring systems to identify emerging issues. There is a lot more to this topic than I can cover here, so I suggest checking out my white paper that explains how technical content can assist in predictive and Condition Based Maintenance Plus (CBM+).

How does technical information help in efficient understanding? What is driving the need?

There is a world-wide labor shortage for technical talent. Recent studies show that 78% of organizations currently have trouble hiring technicians, resulting in a reliance on overtime and other stop-gap efforts. While the urgency has slowed due to COVID-19, the problem is not going away anytime soon and will challenge the A&D industry in the near future.

On top of the labor shortage, 80% of operational, maintenance and support personnel in the global aerospace and defense industry are non-native English speakers, but all aviation industry technical documentation is in English. Did you know it takes up to two years to train non-native English speakers to build competence in Simplified Technical English or STE? As a result, I had several of my defense manufacturing clients look at advances in Machine Translation to deliver dual language technical publications within their Foreign Military Sales or FMS programs. FMS product support is another example because email, live chat and document translation are now vital when exchanging information between FMS customers and their Factory Support Representatives.

What about further up the content supply chain—the creation and delivery process. How are these becoming more efficient?

This is really focused on defense manufacturers and how they can streamline and standardize across programs throughout the enterprise, and even across their supply chains. Consolidating their tech pubs applications on a common software will result in several benefits, including improved agility, quality and security across programs. Content collaboration and reuse will increase and IT support costs will go down. Consolidated reporting becomes possible, providing deeper insights. These capabilities can then be expanded to their providers to streamline data exchange throughout the extended supply chain. 

Both the US Navy and the US Air Force have seen the value of rationalization and consolidation. The Navy with their Standard NAVSEA Integrated Publishing Process, or SNIPP, and the Air Force with their Technical Order Authoring and Publishing, or TOAP, solutions. Both of these efforts are based on SDL Contenta Publishing Suite.