P1030560-1.jpg Sean Broderick/AWST

Closing The Workforce Gap

Direct pipelines from technical schools to employers shows promise.

MRO providers are upbeat about their near-term prospects, and it’s understandable.

Global revenue passenger kilometers were up 6% in 2016—half a point better than the running 10-year average—International Air Transportation Association (IATA) figures show, and the figures were even stronger through the first two months of 2017. This means operators are doing a lot of flying.

Fuel prices have been slowly climbing for the past year, but remain about half of what they were for most of 2011-2014, and they’re not expected get back that high anytime soon. This prolongs the economic viability of older, more maintenance-hungry aircraft.

All this is music to just about any MRO provider’s ears, and plenty are singing along. A recent member survey by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) showed that nearly 60% of respondents expect to post higher sales in the 12 months ahead, compared to 7% that are forecasting contraction.

If there is a downside in bullish demand for MRO services, it is this: 81% of ARSA survey respondents report at least some difficulty in filling open positions. The surging demand means they need to solve that problem quickly; 56% plan to add positions in the next year, while none are projecting layoffs.

It’s not as if the work won’t get done. Rather, it may take longer, or be of lower quality—not exactly music to an MRO customer’s ears. No surprise, then, that the aftermarket industry is hard at work addressing the issue.

Results from a different survey, this one of U.S. aviation maintenance technician schools by the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC), point to one low-hanging fruit. About 25% of graduates do not go on to aviation careers. Finding ways to keep these students on a path that leads to a repair station or a ramp is a start.

ATEC is among those working on more defined efforts. The association’s recent annual conference featured an employee expo, which sought to connect employers in need with the schools that produce them.

ATEC also is among the groups that works with the Talent Solutions Coalition (TSC). Originally supported by a federal grant but now making due on its own, Wichita, Kansas-based TSC takes on airlines, manufacturers and MRO providers as clients, and develops customized workforce pipeline plans to meet specific hiring targets. TSC uses its own supply chain—technical schools—to line up the right number of workers and ensure they are available when the client needs them.

It’s a proactive approach to a looming problem—a problem large enough to sandbag MRO growth during otherwise heady times.

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