The French aeronautics and defense sector is recruiting with a vengeance

Forgotten about the pandemic, the French aeronautics and defense sector is launching vast hiring plans but is worried about the difficulties encountered in finding rare skills and ensuring the ramp-up.

Driven by the resumption of air traffic, the preparation of future programs and the increase in defense budgets around the world, the 400 companies in the sector employing more than 190,000 people, are planning more than 15,000 hires in France in 2023, according to the Groupement French aeronautical and space industries (Gifas).

And all the major contractors, on which a myriad of subcontractors depend, are on the job.

Airbus has announced that it expects 3,500 hires in France this year, half of which will be job creations, out of the 13,000 hires it plans in total worldwide.

This is for the European aircraft manufacturer to respond to the ramp-up of its aircraft production when it has more than 7,000 aircraft to deliver and to prepare green aircraft technologies. A quarter of the recruitments it foresees worldwide concern its space and defense activities.

Safran is counting on 12,000 hires, including 4,500 in France after a year 2022 during which it has already recruited 17,000 people, of which more than 6,000 were job creations.

The equipment and engine manufacturer, which employed 83,000 employees at the end of 2022, had seen its activity fall by 40% and its global workforce melt by 20% during the health crisis.

For Thales, it is also a “record year”: the aeronautical and defense electronics specialist plans to hire more than 12,000 employees worldwide in 2023, including 4,000 job creations. Nearly half of the recruitments (5,500) are planned in France.

Same findings at Dassault Aviation, whose parent company has 9,200 employees and expects 1,000 additional hires this year, or the aeronautical equipment manufacturer Daher, which employs 10,500 employees and intends to recruit 1,100 people in 2023, of which 700 will be net creations.

Among the profiles sought, specialists in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data exploitation or new energies (hydrogen, electrification, etc.).

– SMEs struggling –

So many areas that interest other sectors of the economy and where competition is raging, summarizes Guillaume Faury, president of Airbus and Gifas.

“We are now in tension, in great difficulty, all, to recruit in certain fields, and in particular that of new technologies”, he explains.

“There are significantly more open positions than young graduates leaving school, this is an observation that is made all over the world”, abounds the director of human resources of Thales, Clément de Villepin.

If the large groups have an attractiveness that has enabled them so far to meet their recruitment objectives, the situation is often more complicated for their subcontractors.

These are often small businesses that were weakened during the pandemic and have since struggled to pick up the pace.

In 2020, large groups reduced their workforce by 2.7%, while those of mid-sized companies (ETI) fell by 7% and those of SMEs by 12%, according to Gifas.

“Many SMEs have lost key skills and in sometimes remote territories, it is not easy for them” to recruit, recently explained Clémentine Gallet, president of the Aero-SME committee within Gifas and patron of Coriolis composites.

For the boss of Airbus, which has more than 10,000 suppliers worldwide, “if the large groups have all the staff they need but the companies on which they are based do not have these skills, it will not work. “.

Gifas has therefore also embarked on a campaign to promote aeronautical professions, “Aero is recruiting”, and is counting on the Paris Air Show in June, the first in four years, to highlight them.

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