As CEO Inc.’s Sr. Recruiter and National Practice Leader for Advanced Composites, I spend a lot of time analyzing trends in the industry relative to employment and the economics of this unique space. As I look at the composite industry outlook for 2016, I believe it can be summed up in one word: growth!
Throughout 2015, the composite industry continued its steadily increasing revenue pace and now represents about a $7.5 billion industry in the US market and nearly $22 billion worldwide. This continued growth is fueled by a variety of industries transitioning from heavier metallic components to lighter composite material components. The top growth verticals for 2016 are expected to be defense, industrial, medical devices, automotive, transportation and aerospace.
On the employment front, two themes will be very evident in 2016 for composites professionals looking for new opportunities:
- The composite industry is still novel in terms of materials and processes. New processes are seemingly developed monthly, new materials are being created and companies are investing in the research and development for these changes. Shorter cure times, continuous processes and automation within all industries will be key drivers that fuel the growth of the industry. Since composites are now being used in nearly every industrial and consumer industry, the need to drive costs lower and increase efficiency is a key factor effecting the changes happening in the market right now. Moving composite processing out of the autoclave has been and will continue to be a focus throughout 2016. The use of enterprise planning systems, additive manufacturing [3D printing], development of new thermoplastic matrices and full-scale automation will change the way composites are made.
- The composite industry will need to adapt to the changing of the guard in the talent market. The January 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] shows the unemployment rate for those with BOTH a Bachelors degree [or higher] AND at least 3 years of work experience currently 2.5%. This same category in 2011 was 4.3% unemployed; that’s a 40% drop in 4 years. While the number of engineering graduates has indeed been climbing the past 15 years, there are significantly less unemployed degreed engineers with hands-on experience with composites. Meaning, both companies and those looking for a career change must be more creative in training programs, employee development programs and finding areas of potential cross-over from other industries or materials.
These are the two key factors that will effect talent evaluation, hiring and retaining talent in 2016.
My advice to those either looking for professional development through a career change or looking for talent in this marketplace throughout 2016 is this: focus more on the development of new process and new products. Focus less on the specific materials, processes or industries. These are less relevant, and truthfully, the materials and processes will most likely change over time anyway. Spend time discussing instances and examples in which adaptability, creativity and the ability to solve problems led to successes. This will help you find better matches and ultimately lead to rewarding careers.