21st Century Skills for the Aerospace Industry Workforce and Their Translation to the Classroom

The European Union has now one of the highest unemployment rates all over the world. In 2013, almost a quarter of young people in the EU labour market were unemployed. Furthermore, the youth unemployment rate has been 20 percent or above for 11 of the past 20 years1, therefore it has been for long time an issue which finally turned into a burning one during the recent economic downturn. With so many young people looking for work, one might assume youth unemployment to be purely an issue of demand and that employers would be able to pick excellent talent at modest cost. However, according to a recent survey2 an overriding reason for young people being held back is a lack of skills relevant to the workplace. In Greece, the country with the highest unemployment rate in Eurozone, employers still complain they cannot find suitable entry-level hires; the same is true even for countries with lower unemployment rates. Across all countries which took part in this survey, most employers (61%) were not confident they could find enough applicants with the right skills to meet their business needs. Companies today are often challenged with entry-level workers who lack the practical skills it takes to create, build and help sustain a business. The private sector needs employees who have the ability to respond flexibly to complex problems, to communicate effectively, to manage information, to work in teams, to use technology and to produce new knowledge. The imperative to help young people build skills for employment is unlikely to disappear. The 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which measures student performance at secondary level for mathematics, reading and science, saw the scores of three of the eight countries go down and the rest rise only minimally3. As the current generation of secondary students graduates it seems that skills shortages will become even more of a challenge for both post-secondary institutions and employers in the coming years. An industrial-age curriculum will not fully equip students for living and working in an information- age society. To succeed in this knowledge-based economy, everyone must learn to collaborate and connect digitally — both in their local communities and around the globe. Translating these 21st-century skills to the classroom will shape the economic and social development of countries and communities for years to come. However, one of the most striking findings of the survey is that the education providers are the only ones who, in general, (74%) believe that their graduates are adequately prepared for entry level positions in their chosen field of study, in contrast with 35% of the employers and 38% of the youth themselves. All the mentioned above facts send alarming signals to both the aviation industry and the aviation educational establishments. The aviation industry has always been at the forefront of the excellence and innovation, attracting and retaining highly skilled employees and because of that it is anticipated that this potential skill shortage will adversely influence the capacity of the industry to develop and maintain both existing and future air platforms and their systems. New skills have to be identified for the future workforce of the aviation industry, which have then to be translated to the classroom. The objective of the paper is to propose a generic skill set and the respective changes at the existing curricula, to raise the awareness for this challenging issue and to call for a European-wide action based on close collaboration between industry and academia.