Engineering design consultancy specialist, Morson Projects reveals how it is helping Leonardo’s South West of England helicopter facility to take flight by using an outsourced approach to high-flying talent.
It’s been a tumultuous start to the decade for the helicopter industry. After the sharp downturn prompted by Covid, supply difficulties and continuing skills shortages across the delivery chain present ongoing challenges in a sector driven by advanced technology and reliant on an agile response to mission critical, commercially sensitive and contracts delivered to tight timeframes.
A survey carried out by the ADS Group earlier this year revealed that 75% of the organisation’s members are concerned that workforce and skills shortages are significantly affecting their business, prompting an urgent need to develop robust and creative talent strategies for both current and future skills needs.
The challenge for helicopter manufacturers is not just sourcing the required talent in the right locations in a sector where skills profiles are rapidly evolving; it’s also the need to up-scale, downsize and tailor the team to the needs of projects and contracts in real-time. As with any sector where specialist knowledge and experience is critical to the success of project-based work, a conventional approach to recruitment could involve potential delays running into several months as a manufacturer defines, identifies, interviews and vets potential team members, then onboards everyone and establishes a new team dynamic as the project gets underway. It inevitably involves competing for skilled and experienced individuals too, and potentially the need for targeted upskilling to tailor the available resource to the task in hand.
This approach is at odds with the demands of a sector that often requires project delivery to strict deadlines and the highest engineering standards of safety and performance. For these reasons, Leonardo and Morson Projects have signed a long-term strategic partnering agreement (SPA), which will enable the UK’s only onshore helicopter manufacturer to offload engineering work to augment the company’s existing highly skilled engineering capacity.
The new agreement continues a relationship between the helicopter manufacturer and the engineering design consultancy specialist that is now entering its third decade. Morson Projects will be managing engineering work at Leonardo’s UK helicopter facility in the South West of England through the management of fixed-price packages at one of Morson Project’s UK design offices in Northern Ireland and the North of England, covering Belfast, Manchester, and Hull. Morson Projects’ specialist engineering group enables manufacturers such as Leonardo to tap into the resource of trained and experienced engineers who are fully employed by Morson and able to provide skills across a wide range of relevant disciplines. Where necessary, Morson can also leverage its pool of engineering contractors, while also looking ahead to the future needs of the industry with its early careers development programme.
“This strategic partnering agreement helps to secure our engineering work and supply chain resilience across the UK,” says Adam Clarke, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters UK. “If we are successful on large contracts like the UK MOD New Medium Helicopter programme, the partnership means we will have a number of skills available to us to support UK prosperity and our engineering ecosystem.”
A blended approach
The engineers that Morson Projects supplies into the helicopter sector provide a complete, blended solution for manufacturers with the ability to cherry-pick optimised teams across specialist disciplines, from design engineers through to stress engineers, fatigue engineers, software developers and avionics specialists. Working closely with the client to understand the scope of activity and the work required, Morson Projects draws talent from both retained and contractor engineering teams, from across the UK and Italy, to provide the right blend of knowledge and experience for the specific requirements of the contract.
Becky Veal, associate director – engineering delivery at Morson Projects explains: “We are certified as a Gold employer by the government’s Defence Employer Recognition Scheme and many of our engineers are ex-armed services personnel. They may have 20 years’ experience of working on an aircraft, so they are already familiar with the manufacturer’s operating systems and development platforms, enabling them to hit the ground running as soon as they are deployed for a role.
“Some of the roles we supply may require the engineer to work on site with Leonardo two or three days a week, others might be home-based, or involve working from one of our offices, where we have experienced work zones to facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration within project teams, while ensuring confidentiality is never compromised.”
Identifying new talent
With unprecedented levels of demand for engineering talent, both in the UK and around the world, Morson Projects’ engineering delivery capabilities provide a flexible approach to resourcing projects so clients can be more agile in ramping up or winding down project teams, with a more nimble and dynamic onboarding process. The talent pool that Morson Projects can provide is already specialist in aviation and defence, so the need for confidentiality is ingrained in their working culture, and newly appointed teams will often have worked together before.
But the task of improving resilience in project resourcing for clients like Leonardo goes beyond providing immediate access to a broad range of engineering disciplines and experienced personnel. Morson Projects also operates an Early Careers Development Programme, designed to generate a pipeline of future talent by nurturing graduate and apprentice resource.
Head of engineering project delivery at Morson Projects, Matthew Thompson, comments: “We pride ourselves on our commitment to supporting the professional and personal development of all our employees and our Early Careers Development Programme allows us to lead the way in growing the UK’s top engineering talent of the future, supported by our in-house operational enabling teams. We began this year with 62 early careers employees within our engineering team, and we plan to increase this by another 40% over the next 12 months, all of whom will be supported by our trained, in-house mentors.
Apprenticeships last for up to four years and Morson Projects offers apprentices experience across a wide range of disciplines, which both provides them with a grounding in the interdependency of various elements of the project delivery process, and enables them to make an informed choice about where they want to specialise. Each apprentice is trained and mentored in-house by Morson Projects’ experienced teams, and the company also works with i-Aero in Yeovil to train budding engineers and upskill those who want to broaden their experience or exploit transferrable skills.
Reviving the talent pool
With a strong heritage of helicopter manufacturing in the UK, there is an excellent pool of expertise in the sector; but there is also substantial, global competition for talent. Outsourcing engineering resource to a partner like Morson Projects, with UK and European offices, a footprint in Australia and a tier-two supply chain in key markets such as India, enables companies like Leonardo to avoid problematic peaks in demand for skills and bid for contracts with a high level of certainty that they will be able to resource them.
“For some time, the engineering talent pool has been running dry,” adds Thompson. “So there has been a need for fresh thinking and a different way of working. Our approach has been to address this issue from multiple standpoints, providing flexibility with a plug and play solution for existing talent, while bringing in skills from other sectors, training those with transferrable skills and nurturing the next generation. It’s a holistic response that would be too cumbersome for a lean manufacturer to invest in alone, but works as an outsourced solution for our manufacturing clients because it draws on the engineering, recruitment and training resource within the Morson Group.”