The aerospace industry in California fared relatively well when compared to the overall manufacturing sector according to a recent study by the Northern California Center of Excellence and the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies at Cerritos College. Between 2004 and 2008, the aerospace industry added over 5,500 jobs, but then experienced a sharp decline in 2009 with the loss of nearly 14,500 jobs over the previous year. Between 2004 and 2009, the aerospace industry declined only 5 percent compared to 12 percent for the overall manufacturing sector.
California is responsible for about 25 percent of the aerospace industry in the U. S. Besides the strong supplier presence, California has more NASA centers than any other state and has a higher education system that provides a pipeline of skilled workers. The clustering of aerospace supplier industries promotes knowledge transfer and innovation, reduces operating expenditures, and attracts new aerospace businesses to the state. There are also four air force bases that support research, design, and testing of commercial and military aerospace systems (Edwards, Vandenberg, Los Angeles, and Air Force Plant 42.)
A few large firms, such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, which produce aircraft for the military and private organizations, dominate the aerospace industry. These large firms subcontract with smaller suppliers to manufacture or design parts for the aircraft systems. The aerospace industry is comprised of the following industry groups:
- Aircraft manufacturing
- Aircraft engines and engine parts
- Other aircraft parts and equipment
- Aircraft support
- Missiles, space vehicles and parts
- Search, detection and navigation instruments
In 2008, there were about 5,300 aerospace companies located in California, with the majority located in Los Angeles County (1,850), followed by Orange County (790), the Silicon Valley (610), and the San Diego and Imperial Region (450).
The study divided the state into ten regions, with Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego/Imperial, and the Inland Empire, and South Central providing the most jobs. While four of the top five regions lost jobs, the San Diego/Imperial region gained over 3,000 jobs, indicating a unique competitive position relative to the other regions.
The aerospace industry generated over $27 billion in sales in 2009, with the Los Angeles region generating 42 percent of the total revenue. Orange County Silicon Valley, and the San Diego and Imperial region were high performers in terms of generating revenue.
Between 2009 and 2014, the ten fastest-growing aerospace occupations are: machinists, aircraft mechanics/service technicians, computer-controlled machine tool operators, industrial engineers, computer software engineers, business operation specialists, aerospace engineers, and engineering and other managers. A bachelor’s degree is required for six of the ten occupations, with the remaining four occupations requiring work experience, on-the-job training or a vocational training certificate.
The problem with the machinist occupation is that there is already a shortage of skilled machinists that will be exacerbated as the baby boom generation retires, and there are few vocational training or apprenticeship programs to generate the skilled workers to replace the retirees. For example, there is only one college in San Diego that provides a training program for machinists, San Diego City College. A student can get a certificate in machine technology or an A. S. degree. The entry-level salary in San Diego for the lowest paid occupation of a computer-controlled machine tool operator is $12 – $15 per hour depending on the size of the company. The program graduates about 20 – 25 students per year.
The highest paid of these occupations is engineering managers, with median earnings at $62 per hour or approximately $129,000 per year, but of course, there are very few of these positions. The aircraft mechanics/service technician occupation provides good wages at $27 per hour or about $57,000 per year and has a large number of projected job openings over the next five years.
The aerospace manufacturing industry is expected to experience slow growth in the next five years, regaining less than half of the jobs lost in the previous five years. Orange County and the San Diego and Imperial region are expected to experience the largest gain with the addition of about 1,550 and 1.630 jobs respectively. Unfortunately, the region with almost 50 percent of current employment, Los Angeles is expected to continue to decline by about 4 percent or nearly 3,300 jobs by 2014.
The purpose of the study was to assess and map the workforce and economic trends of the aerospace sector for ten regions in California. The information will be used b the California Community College’s Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT) to determine how to best serve the industry. The CACTs specialize in providing workforce training and technical consultation to help businesses solve operational, personnel, and technical problems in the manufacturing environment. The CACTs offer technology education, manufacturing training, and consulting services that contribute to continuous workforce development, technology deployment, and business development. The goal of the CACTs is to provide companies the technical expertise they need to compete successfully in changing markets and the global economy. There are 12 CACTs statewide, six of which are located in the top aerospace industry regions. To learn more, please visit http://www.makingitincalifornia.com/