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The World Turns On The Turn Of A Wrench – Save The Aviation Workforce

There’s a looming crisis in the aviation workforce. We’re all talking about it, which is good. The question is: how do we get the world to notice?

Telling You What You Already Know

Maintaining a world-class labor force is an everyday challenge for the aviation maintenance community. Repair stations invest heavily in finding the right people with the right skills and certifications and keeping them current on regulatory and technical issues.

Unfortunately, trials lay ahead. Depending on the day of the week the numbers may vary, but the truth remains the same: we desperately need qualified workers to meet growing global demand for air travel in the next 30 years.

Looming retirements, changing demographics and the lure of other industries will make recruiting and training more difficult – and more important – than ever.

What Do We do?

There are people who want to work, but the challenge is two-fold.

First, transform them from just “people” into a “qualified, highly-trained and government-certificated work force.” This takes time, effort and resources from training institutions, businesses and job seekers as well as the government entities that regulate their work.

Second, hold on to them. An airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanic makes a great technician in just about any high-tech setting, the key is to keep them in the hangar or the component shop rather than at the amusement park or factory.

This second challenge is more daunting than it seems. For those of us already making our living in aviation, it is difficult to imagine why anyone, anywhere, would want to do anything else. The facts appear otherwise: according to a recent survey by the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC), aviation maintenance training schools (AMTS) estimate that one out of every four graduates pursue careers in fields other than aviation. That means thousands of potential aerospace professionals are taking their talents elsewhere each year.

We’ve got gaps to fill but well-trained men and women are taking their talents elsewhere.

How Do We Do It

Tell the story and get the numbers right. Last year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied the aviation workforce and managed to find no evidence of a maintenance worker shortage. How could the problem have escaped the GAO’s researchers when we see it every day? It makes sense when you consider they had to rely on pretty bad data: poorly categorized, inconsistently reported and undependable.

Industry groups like ATEC and the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) are already working to improve how aviation workforce data is captured and categorized. (Ever heard of SOC classifications? Stay tuned.)

Getting the numbers right is important, but it won’t matter unless we get aviation maintenance careers on every stage and under every spotlight. Show how vital this work is to the lives and livelihoods of people in every corner of the world. Give parents a reason to be excited when their high-schoolers return home with thoughts of technical training. Make it clear that the world turns on the turn of a wrench.

Luckily, there’s a venue for this: the Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC).

The AMC pits teams of technicians, engineers and students in a test of their combined abilities. The competition’s sole purpose is to raise awareness of the training and skills needed to provide safe and airworthy aircraft worldwide while providing a venue for AMT students to celebrate their technical competency on a grand and public stage. This year’s AMC will be in Miami, Florida in April – co-located with Aviation Week’s MRO Americas.

For AMT schools, competition at AMC is a great opportunity regardless of the final score. Participation provides instructors a means to encourage the ambition of their students and expose them to the broader maintenance community. It also elevates the institution’s brand, each team member a school-color-clad ambassador of the many classmates and faculty back on campus.

For students, the reward for their hard work is more than just a sightseeing trip and champion's trophy; it's a chance to demonstrate talent while connecting with prospective employers.

For aviation businesses, the AMC is an invitation to meet the workforce of the future and celebrate service of the flying public worldwide. Through sponsorships, attendance and attention, the community can shine the spotlight on itself.

There’s plenty of work ahead, but it’s worth it. After all, the product is a fulfilling career, a healthy industry and safety in the air.

 

Brett Levanto is the Director of Operations at Obadal, Filler, MacLeod and Klein, the Virginia-based law firm that manages both the Aeronautical Repair Station Association and the Aviation Technician Education Council. Visit the global aviation maintenance industry’s information portal at avmro.ARSA.org.

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