It seems somewhat inevitable that if you sack engineers to reduce head count, get rid of experienced assembly crew to save money, then demand suppliers ramp up production of components – when they have a shortage of trained people, problems might be inevitable.
Add to that the general poor state of apprenticeship roles in US industry and lack of foresight planning for an industrial future, as companies generally cut labour to make short term profits, and you have the perfect storm.
Lack of perceived value in working in industrial engineering roles has also turned off young people from that path. It’s not seen as a skilled profession.
Boeing and it’s suppliers are now facing the consequences of all of these behaviours.
The 737 assembly facility has shortages of parts, completed fuselage sections, general components and engines. It’s so bad that over 40 aircraft – the best part of a full months production – are now sat in open storage awaiting multiple parts to be completed.
Similar issues have happened at Airbus – but lack of trained staff hasn’t been the cause. That’s entirely down to repeated demands to up production faster than suppliers can finance expansion – a situation overcome by Airbus accepting its role in the problem, and contributing to the solution.
Boeing seems to have made a rod for its own back. Many commentators over the years have said that loosing so many experienced engineers would eventually cost the company in some form.
Growing defence procurement budgets have further stretched available engineer pools, as more and more are required for space and defence project work, along with civil aircraft programmes.
US engineers have a wider set of options, have learnt to turn down shorter term jobs – even if the pay is higher – in defence programmes that come and go in cycles, choosing other industries, where there skills are suddenly in more demand and jobs longer lasting.
Older engineers are being encouraged out of retirement with hefty consulting fees, especially when it comes to high technology kit like sophisticated radars nobody in the active work force knows how to make anymore, but are needed for replacements or new developments as budgets materialise.
Around the world we are seeing continued failures to invest in people – pilots are in ever growing short supply, engineers – not software coders who’ve purloined that title – but mechanical engineers who make physical product that does something tangible – are now sought after in societies that have for years declined to value them.
Those countries where that hasn’t been the case – France, South Korea, Japan and Germany especially- have a lead – Britain is catching up having realised 8 years ago it needed to reverse course. Yet right now – lack of mechanical engineers and assembly professionals is coming home to roost. It’s time everyone realised the problem and dealt with it.