Printed headline: Wooing Workers at Oshkosh
On the opening day of EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, the impending aviation MRO workforce crunch was top of mind as concurrent events played out. At the show’s press headquarters, Boeing presented its 2019 Pilot and Technician Outlook to journalists, predicting that the industry will need nearly 770,000 new maintenance technicians over the next 20 years. Across the show grounds at the Education and Career Center, a multitude of companies and technical schools tried their hand at recruiting new talent through incentives such as signing bonuses, benefits offerings and financial packages for transitioning military personnel.
“There’s a true war [for] talent,” says William Ampofo, Boeing’s vice president of business and general aviation, as he reiterated the need to attract the next generation of skilled workers as waves of retirements quickly approach. The OEM believes educational outreach and career-pathway programs will be essential to recruitment.
Aviation company representatives within the Education and Career Center resoundingly echoed those sentiments. Danny Degen, inspection supervisor at Alaska-based ACE Air Cargo, says growing demand in the industry has made hiring airframe and powerplant (A&P) mechanics much more competitive. The carrier, which maintains a fleet of Beechcraft B1900C aircraft, is attempting to meet both current and anticipated workforce demand due to upcoming expansion and retirements. Degen says ACE has been trying to recruit by reaching out at trade shows, offering hiring bonuses and giving potential hires the ability to earn an A&P license through on-the-job training.
At regional carrier Air Wisconsin Airlines, the workforce crunch is definitely being felt. “Everything behind the scenes is what’s needed,” explains Edward Baranowski, director of maintenance for Air Wisconsin, citing not just mechanic jobs but positions such as avionics technicians, inspectors and maintenance planners. “You name it, we have openings,” he says.
Baranowski sees the industry as a bit behind the curve—particularly when it comes to filling technical operations jobs versus more glamorous and publicized pilot positions. He believes part of the problem is the public’s misunderstanding that the only types of maintenance careers available are for aircraft mechanics, pointing to the wide variety of roles offered in the carrier’s technical operations department.
The carrier’s recruitment strategy is multifaceted. To target youth, it has partnered with both A&P schools and organizations like ATEC to promote aviation careers. Baranowski says the carrier has started an internship program that it would eventually like to introduce at all of its bases, and it is working on developing opportunities for scholarships with its industry partners. Aside from targeting younger AirVenture attendees who stopped by the Air Wisconsin booth, Baranowski says the company was also speaking with older attendees who “have always had an interest in the industry and want to live that dream out.”
When it comes to targeting different demographics, Piedmont Airlines had on-site recruiters at the show, actively pursuing transitioning military personnel. Recruiter G. William Henry—a veteran himself—says the carrier knows veterans are able to see through the hyped-up facade of recruiting, so it is working to create employment opportunities that are truly appealing, including incentive packages, good health insurance and flight benefits. Since many technicians are close to retirement age, Henry says, “There’s a sense of urgency with the workforce crunch.” So the carrier is also attempting to drum up interest by visiting schools such as the American Airman Ground School in Long Island, New York.
As for the technical schools on site at EAA AirVenture, one was working with a hometown advantage. Fox Valley Technical College, which has campuses in Oshkosh and throughout Wisconsin, was seeing a lot of interest from show attendees. “There’s definitely a draw of being in an ‘aviation capital’ like Oshkosh,” says Catey Frost, admissions specialist for the school’s Oshkosh campuses. She says that as one of only two colleges in Wisconsin to offer an aviation maintenance program, the school makes sure to attend EAA AirVenture every year to reach out to potential students.
“Word has really started to get out about careers and job opportunities within aviation maintenance, so we’re seeing lots of interest,” says Frost. She adds that interest has “been growing immensely.”
One school that traveled farther to reach potential students is Utah State University, which offers maintenance management degrees in its aviation technology program. Mike Logan, the program’s coordinator for recruiting, marketing and outreach, says that in addition to partnerships with Delta Air Lines and Duncan Aviation to help prepare students for careers in aviation MRO through hands-on experience, the school has a number of programs in place to reach out to K-12 students. The university travels to events like EAA AirVenture and schools around Utah to generate interest with students. Logan says he is hoping to expand these efforts to other states soon.
Utah State also puts on two aviation-themed summer camps for students 13-18 years old, where attendees have the opportunity to fly in aircraft, use flight simulators and operate drones—the last of which Logan says has generated quite a bit of interest. Although the school was seeing some interest in its maintenance management program from AirVenture attendees, Logan says its drone program was definitely the biggest draw.
Boeing’s forecast predicts that airlines in North America will need 193,000 new maintenance technicians over the next two decades to keep up with demand. For business aviation—a segment that is included at EAA AirVenture—there will be a need for 93,000 new maintenance technicians worldwide in the same time frame.