Alaska Airlines now has more than 700 technicians, a count that continues to grow with its expanding network and integration with Virgin America, according to Kurt Kinder, vice president of maintenance and engineering.
“We’ve been strategic with hiring and so far haven’t experienced a technician shortage,” Kinder says. “However, we see it coming.”
The Alaska exec says attracting talent isn’t the challenge. “We can, and we do, attract people with Alaska’s small-company feel, our approach to training and our competitive pay scale.
The challenge, or opportunity, is finding technicians with prior experience who can help bridge skill gaps between technicians fresh out of A&P school and technicians with 30-plus years under their belt.”
To meet that challenge, the airline is increasing its use of military-to-corporate transition programs like Camo2Commerce. It is also looking at the talent coming from MRO shops and its partnerships with top- tier A&P schools to feed the pipeline.
Alaska’s own approach to training techs weaves safety and compliance into every process, not just those involving aircraft systems and technology. “We teach how safety and compliance relate to FARs, company policies, procedures, and manufacturer instructions,” Kinder stresses. That is one reason the airline consistently wins FAA Diamond awards for its training program.
Alaska’s internal training relies heavily on a world-class training department and On-the-Job Trainers (OJTs), who are frontline technicians. “OJTs have walked in the shoes of new technicians and as a result created an awesome training plan that passes on experience and expertise while making a personal connection with the up-and-coming technicians,” Kinder says.
Alaska’s five to ten-year forecast of technician needs is still evolving. “Although there’s a sense of urgency to fill up the pipeline now, we’re committed to doing so in a strategic way,” Kinder emphasizes.
Kinder argues aviation should deal with the anticipated shortage of technicians first by sharing its story with the next generation. Whether or not the glamor of aviation is fading, “the glory days for technicians is on the horizon.” Technology is advancing how maintenance is performed.
“More important, the role of the technician is advancing to match this innovation.” Aircraft technicians will not only take on more complex technologies, but will also have a greater influence on how the airline business is run. And airlines must adjust their training strategies to fit these changes.