Monday (Mar. 5) marked the start of national apprenticeship week here in the UK, an annual government-led campaign intended to promote vocational career paths for young people.
Both the government and its opposition parties have acknowledged the value of apprenticeships, albeit differing in their approaches on how best to execute their strategies across domestic industries.
For a small island, the UK is estimated by the ADS Group to have the world’s second largest aerospace industry behind the U.S., with data from the trade body acknowledging a 39% expansion in just five years - an illustration of its robustness.
The UK’s MRO industry, estimated to generate turnover of £15 billion ($20.7 billion) annually across more than 1,300 companies supporting the commercial and military MRO sectors according to a paper issued in February 2016 by the Department For Business, Innovation & Skills, is an industry segment that has been particularly proactive in targeting new talent.
The industry has been proactive out of necessity. Multiple studies issued by analysts and aircraft manufacturing, including Airbus and Boeing, have identified a need for younger technicians not only to address the workforce numbers required to projected global growth but also to lower the industry median age, last estimated by Oliver Wyman in 2017 to stand at 51 globally. That is nine years older than the median age in the rest of the economy.
With MROs mostly turning to apprenticeships, are existing schemes effective? In the UK, some MROs certainly seem to think so.
Monarch Aircraft Engineering announced on Monday (Mar. 5) that it plans to double the size of its apprenticeship intake for this year, going from 20 students to 40 annually.
Successful applicants to the program will train at Monarch’s specialist academy at its Luton Airport headquarters, before moving to one of the bases at either at Luton, Birmingham or London Gatwick to further their training in either aircraft mechanical or avionics systems.
Manpower could prove especially important for a company like Monarch, which has operated as a standalone maintenance and engineering business since October of last year following the collapse of its parent airline group.
With around 50% of its workload driven by in-house airline work at the time of Monarch Airlines’ demise, the company is now looking to grow its third-party base. To make the most of the opportunities, having the right level of skills resources will no doubt be of great importance.
The maintenance divisions of some of the UK’s most prominent airlines, benefiting from widespread brand recognition, have also ramped up their apprenticeship schemes in recent years.
Virgin Atlantic restored its apprenticeship scheme in September 2017 following a two-year sabbatical for the program. Having taken 10 new apprentices shortly after its relaunch, Phil Wardlaw, Virgin Atlantic’s vice president of engineering and maintenance services, told Inside MRO that this will specifically focus on younger demographic and will continue “for a number of years."
“Apprenticeship programs have long proved to be very effective ways of bringing talent into the Virgin Atlantic maintenance and engineering department, and many of our technicians working started out through that route,” he said.
Another area where the MRO segment has looked to recruit is in the woefully under-served market for female technicians. EasyJet, another prominent UK carrier, confirmed it was seeking 14 new engineering apprentices, targeting a 50-50 split between men and women. The Women’s Engineering Society identified just 6% of registered engineers and technicians in the UK are female --the lowest percentage in Europe.