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features How the eVTOL sector is addressing the critical shortage of engineering talent

With the Vertical Flight Society estimating a need for 10,000 additional engineers over the next 10 years across the vertical flight industry, we took a look at the steps eVTOL companies are taking to secure the talent they need.
Avatar for Gerrard Cowan By Gerrard Cowan | December 5, 2022

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 38 seconds.

The eVTOL sector will need thousands of engineers and other technicians in the coming years to meet the demands of a rapidly growing market. With shortfalls of STEM-qualified personnel worldwide — that is, those who studied in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — and competition from other sectors, what steps are companies taking to secure the talent they need?

Joby
The Vertical Flight Society estimates a need for 10,000 additional engineers over the next 10 years across the vertical flight industry. Joby Image

The problem was one of the focuses of an October 2022 report by HYSKY Society for the Vertical Flight Society (VFS), a follow-up to a previous VFS study in 2020. The earlier analysis noted that several multibillion-dollar rotorcraft acquisition efforts are underway through the U.S. Department of Defense Future Vertical Lift (FVL) initiative, while at the same time, traditional aerospace and defense companies struggle to fill hundreds of VTOL vacancies.

This heightens the competition for the talented engineers and other experts that eVTOL companies require, with VFS estimating a need for 10,000 additional engineers over the next 10 years across the vertical flight industry. In particular, the new report emphasized the importance of diversity and inclusion in expanding the workforce, improving the capacity to secure talent by reaching beyond traditional pipelines.

In an interview with Vertical, VFS executive director Mike Hirshberg stressed that “we can’t just keep doing the same thing as we’ve always done, recruiting from the traditional aerospace engineering schools” and similar entities. For example, he said there needs to be greater connections built with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the U.S.

Volocopter’s recruitment efforts

Volocopter has seen success in its recruitment efforts, said Lucie Prinz, the company’s chief people officer. She also pointed to the importance of diversity, along with an open mindset, an interesting product, and a positive brand.

In its early years, Volocopter found it “was easier to hire people from smaller companies where they had a holistic view on the aircraft, instead of specialists from bigger companies.” The initial goal was to prove that the technology worked.

However, the company is now at a different stage, where it is working to achieve certification of a commercial aircraft to the highest safety standards within an industry with the most stringent regulations.

“With the increase of full-time employees, it was possible for people to focus more on specific areas,” Prinz said. “What is most important is that people have the right mindset and experience levels in the specific product fields. The sector background is less relevant.”

Battery technology is one field that many companies struggle with in different industries, Prinz said. This has proved complex for recruitment in the past couple of years. It can also be a challenge when a special combination of skills is required — for example, a knowledge of German or European law, in addition to the traditional background of the role in question.

Volocopter Lucie Prinz
Lucie Prinz, Volocopter’s chief people officer, points to the importance of diversity, along with an open mindset, an interesting product, and a positive brand, when it comes to recruiting talent. Volocopter Image

Joby launches apprenticeship program

Speaking during Joby’s third-quarter earnings call in early November, founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt highlighted “the challenge of having the right team in the right place at the right time. We’ve done a lot of work to anticipate the growth required in our team, adding a number of key members and groups as necessary.”

For example, Joby acquired Avionyx — a software development and verification firm — earlier in 2022, although Bevirt said there are still other gaps to fill. 

Pointing to examples of the company’s work to expand its teams, a Joby spokesperson said that in partnership with the Monterey Bay Drone, Automation and Robotics Technology (DART) initiative and the James Irvine Foundation, it has established an apprentice program for careers in aerospace manufacturing.

“Each apprentice earns an industry-recognized manufacturing certification, and paid on-the-job training provides tangible new skills in manufacturing,” the spokesperson said.

Textron eAviation leverages existing talent

Antonio LaCorte is the director of external affairs at Textron eAviation, which counts Pipistrel’s Velis Electro and the Nexus eVTOL air taxi among its major projects. He said that while engineering resources are available in more traditional disciplines like mechanical or aeronautical engineering, “specific elements of an eVTOL system, such as high-voltage power distribution, electric motors and the associated aircraft systems consist of a small pool of talent at this time.”

He said hiring new people can be challenging, but Textron eAviation has leveraged talent from across Textron businesses, as well as new engineers, specialists, and graduates from various academic backgrounds.

LaCorte said there has been a significant effort in academic institutions to include STEM-related subjects in curricula. However, the challenge is infusing discipline-specific curricula that supports the current rate of technology evolution, such as high voltage power architectures.

“If we take a step back and look at the eVTOL landscape, we see a continual competition for human resources, which aren’t necessarily straight out of collegiate programs,” he said. “Rather, they are individuals who have had experience in autonomous systems and/or exposure to programs that focus on pioneering eVTOL work.”

LaCorte said the industry must partner with academia to further evolve curricula.

Textron eAviation takes several approaches to attracting new employees, he added. The talent associated with such novel roles tend to gravitate toward social media platforms for opportunities, he said.

Additionally, “we have intern programs for both high school and college level STEM projects that directly contribute to our current aircraft projects, such as the Nexus eVTOL air taxi. Events like the Vertical Flight Society symposiums and HAI Heli-Expo are also great places to meet potential candidates.”

Pipistrel
Textron eAviation said while engineering resources are available in more traditional disciplines like mechanical or aeronautical engineering, there’s a small pool of talent for specific elements of an eVTOL system. Pictured is Pipistrel’s Velis Electro, one of Textron eAviation’s major projects, along with the Nexus eVTOL air taxi. Alex Scerri Image

Recruitment challenges in traditional rotorcraft

Many recruitment challenges are also common to the wider rotorcraft industry. Frank Lazzara, director of Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) sales and strategy for Bell, said that demand in other sectors could help stimulate the industry across the board.

For example, Lazzara pointed to the FLRAA program under FVL, in which Bell is a competitor. This would create hundreds of jobs that would “grow Bell’s existing vertical lift industrial base with a focus on advanced flight controls, digital engineering, and cutting-edge manufacturing capabilities to support future factories and rapid prototyping.”

Lazzara said Bell participates in a range of recruitment events and engages potential new hires through initiatives like the Bell Advanced Vertical Robotics competition with REC foundation, along with other workshops and events.

Opportunities in the eVTOL industry

Prinz said the eVTOL sector offers “a lot of opportunities and breaks from the traditional rules of the industry. In this type of fast-paced environment — without the traditional bureaucratical or structural roadblocks one might experience in larger companies — employees are able to take on much more responsibility to develop an aircraft.”

On the other hand, she noted, there can be a perception that job security could be greater in larger companies, despite market volatility.

“My guess is that there are hundreds of pros and cons — it all depends on the personality of a person and what they are looking for,” Prinz said.

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