For aerospace employees, it's a new L.A.

Once the home to assembly line production, the local aerospace market has shifted away from production, particularly aircraft assembly, and evolved into a work force consisting mostly of tech-oriented jobs.

"There is more emphasis on fighting smart," said Mark Day, director of communications at Raytheon Electronic Systems in El Segundo. "As a result, the work force is becoming more professionalized. Now the focus is on software engineers, designers and aerospace engineers."

In some respects, aerospace technology can be slow moving. Over the last few decades the product itself a tube with wings hasn't changed all that much.

"The real changes are in the subsystems," said David Speiser, a partner at McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm in Los Angeles. "Those things aren't as labor intensive to produce, but they're more engineering intensive it's not that the people bending metal are becoming more tech savvy, it's that there are fewer people bending metal."

Anne Eisley, director of communications at Boeing Space & Communications, said there's a joke in the defense industry. "Internally we say you used to bend metal but now you bend zeros and ones," she said.

Those zeros and ones are being used to develop ways to make subsystems smaller lighter and cheaper. "That's our mantra in this industry," Day said. To accomplish this goal the industry "needs software engineers, physicists, electrical engineers you still need a certain number of technicians, but now they're assembling circuit boards, building components chassis. The jobs are more sophisticated."

That the average Southern California aerospace employee requires a higher degree of training reflects an industry-wide move towards smarter defense products. Day, who recalls when the defense industry was in contention to be the largest employer in the state, said that 10 years ago the industry was focused more on bulk and volume of defense products rather than technological sophistication.

"(Before) it was lots of airplanes and munitions," he said. "Now we're effectively building systems that enable our military to do more with less investment."

If there is a recurring theme that can be used to characterize the Southern California aerospace industry, it's cost-cutting. "(Today) production processes are much leaner," said Jon Kutler, chief executive at Quarterdeck Investment Partners in Los Angeles. "There's less fat in the process (and) factories have invested in ways to more efficiently address production."

Overall, the increase in efficiency has led to an overall decrease in the number of jobs. "Jobs have been redistributed," said Kutler. "On an employee per revenue basis, there are less employees now."

According to Kutler, overall investment in aerospace technology has slowed over the past decade because many of the companies in Southern California involved in such work are small-to-mid-sized firms, with less money to invest than larger corporations.-

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