drone industry grew 2020 jobs hiring

Despite COVID, one surprising metric shows how much the drone industry grew in 2020

One surprising metric illuminates just how much the drone industry grew in 2020 that should be relevant for anyone who works — or is pursuing a career — in drones. Drone companies increased their staff by 15%, on average in 2020.

That’s according to an April 2021 report from German-based drone research group Drone Industry Insights, which analyzed more than 1,000 drone companies that have some sort of significant focus on drones. And the data corroborates the story we reported in 2020 based on anecdotes about the drone industry hiring en masse. Companies including Skyfish and DroneDeploy were among those that did significant hiring last year.

To further breakdown those metrics, here are the fields where the drone industry grew in 2020 the most, in terms of personnel:

  • Hardware: 18% increase in size of workforce
  • Service sector: 8% increase in size of workforce
  • Software: 0.4% decrease in size of workforce

Clearly hardware jobs exploded in popularity in 2020, largely driven by passenger drone manufacturing growth. That’s unsurprising given how many drone delivery hardware companies saw major investment in recent years.

The service sector is a broader field that encompasses everything from consulting and advisory groups to marketplaces for drone footage to drone service providers. And as companies look to augment their use of drones (without needing to have their own employees use drones themselves), large drone service providers are the primary growth driver in the service sector. Coronavirus provided a clear, landmark opportunity for drone delivery to deliver everything from PPE for medical providers to at-home coronavirus test kits to basic pantry items to fun treats like coffee to people’s homes. It’s likely that the big players in those fields, such as Google-sibling Wing, and Zipline, led that growth.

Still, 43% of drone service companies experienced a drop in demand for drone work (though a lucky 15% of companies saw growth due to coronavirus).

Interestingly, drone industry jobs on the software side saw a marginal decrease in number of personnel working in those jobs.

drone companies grew in 2020 Drone Industry Insights company founding year by segment
Image courtesy of Drone Industry Insights

Beyond just jobs at existing companies, it seems that tons of drone companies continue to pop up. While the number of companies established between 2016 and 2020 is lower than the number of companies established in the four-year period between 2011 and 2015 it’s not by much.  There were 836 drone companies founded between 2011 to 2015 alone. From 2016 to 2020, 790 companies were established with a focus on drones. 

Considering the 2011-2015 period was the beginning of the massive drone hype bubble, similar growth suggests that perhaps that period was not a hype bubble at all. Drones are here to stay.

How did coronavirus affect the drone industry job market?

The number of jobs in the drone industry grew in 2020 — notable in a year that saw many other industries like restaurants, travel and more crumble.

“Whether the year would have been even better without Covid-19 and the average growth of the companies would have been higher than 15% cannot be fully judged,” according to an analysis by Drone Industry Insights.

And hobby interest in drones did almost certainly grow in 2020 after dipping in 2019 from the high interest in the mid-2010’s hype bubble. Drone research company Drone Analyst studied Google Trends global data around keywords that suggest high purchasing intent such as “best drones” and “buy drone.” 

“The peak in April and May of this year was tied for the largest non-holiday month, back in July of 2017,” according to Drone Analyst’s report. Again, considering drones are an ideal activity for social distancing, it’s likely that the pandemic had something to do with it.

Rise in hobby interest is good news for the drone industry as a whole. 46.5% of drone programs were founded by someone who initially had interest in drones as a hobbyist.  The more hobbyists who got into the industry when they were bored at home in 2020 means the more corporate drone programs you can expect to come in the future. That means more money for the drone industry and, yes, more jobs.

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