How an aerospace giant ensured brain drain didn’t prevent its innovation efforts from taking off


The global aerospace industry is facing unprecedented challenges. Emission reduction targets are driving demand for new, innovative, products, while country-specific problems like Brexit in the UK and the soaring cost of higher education programmes in Germany are creating skills gaps where it’s difficult to attract and retain talented staff.

As in other manufacturing sectors, baby-boomer retirements are expected to hasten the void – and as the most experienced workers approach retirement, the risk of losing decades of “tribal knowledge” increases significantly.

Like the rest of the industry, one of our customers ,a multinational aerospace corporation, is battling against these pressing issues, striving to foster a culture of innovation which will help it maintain its industry-leading position for the long term.


Established problems need new solutions

The savviest firms realise that innovation can come from anywhere within a business, regardless of specialism or hierarchy. And, when a staff member met AfCE mentors at a conference in Copenhagen, this mindset was brought to bear for this organisation.

The company was initially sceptical – it had already undertaken an ‘out of the box’ innovation programme and felt that the hands-off method had left the team without the guidance it needed. However, in AfCE, they saw a different approach – combining practical advice with ongoing mentoring.

This company took a chance on the ambitious team member, agreeing to undertake AfCE’s six-step Kickbox programme, a lean staged initiative based on the Adobe methodology which is designed to increase the potential success of innovation, speed up the entire process – and, importantly, reduce the cost.

The innovation team, selected from across business disciplines, used this programme to create disruptive ideas which they felt would support business growth and meet strategic objectives (particularly in the arena of sustainability). The twelve-week programme saw the team rigorously test prototypes and improve the best ones, use customer feedback and testing to validate ideas and make further changes – and ultimately prepare fully tested concepts for pitch, and for further development.

The stand-out benefit for this customer, was that the entire process was supported by an expert mentor, who was able to provide guidance, challenge the team’s assumptions and corporate processes, and ensure the team was engaged and on track throughout. Importantly, AfCE’s programme facilitated the sharing of information, skills and knowledge – crucial in battling the ‘brain drain’ which is hitting the aerospace sector.


Creating pioneer intrapreneurs

The Kickbox programme has resulted in two concepts which meet the company’s stringent brief and are now ready to take to the next stage. But, on top of this immediate benefit, undertaking AfCE’s programme has created a group of pioneer ‘intrapreneurs’: employees with an entrepreneur mindset, who have the skills, knowledge and aptitude to foster a culture where innovation is encouraged and sought out – from anywhere in the business.

Importantly, innovation teams who have undertaken AfCE’s training are able to transfer knowledge across the business – combatting the trap that so many corporations fall into, particularly in the manufacturing sector, where expertise is siloed and where innovation sits apart from the rest of the organisation.

Ultimately, this first step in this customer’s journey with AfCE, through a low cost and scalable innovation programme, has increased the likelihood of innovation success in the future, allowed intrapreneurs to flourish and has paved the way for future initiatives.