Competency And Workforce Planning: Bridging The Generation Gap

The growth of civil aviation is driving an increasing need for engineering support, especially in the MRO sector. The aviation industry faces several challenges in developing the skilled workforce over the coming years, as the experienced technicians and engineering managers reach retirement, and as advancing technology places new demands for a different set of skills. Martin Soltau, aerospace business manager at Frazer-Nash Consultancy looks at some of the challenges the industry is addressing.

What are the challenges?

The Boeing ‘2015 Pilot & Technician outlook’ predicts there is a global need for more than 600,000 new technicians over the next twenty years who will require initial training, followed by regular assessment and continual development.
Aircraft systems and structures are evolving and the skills needed to maintain an aircraft in 2015 are very different to those needed ten or twenty years ago. MRO providers will need to develop capabilities in high temperature composites, sintered products, additive layer materials and other advanced technologies. This will require the development of new workforce skills as well as new equipment. The situation can be likened to the automotive industry where nowadays, when you look under the bonnet of your new car, you realise that you need a computer to fix it.

Another problem is that it’s not a simple case of transferring the expertise and knowledge from the retirees to the new recruits. You need to decide what is important to transfer, what is obsolete and what new skills are required. It can sometimes be more cost-effective to sub-contract maintenance tasks rather than continue to repair them in-house, and this type of activity requires a different skill set again.

Finally, while there are regulations and structures in place to assess the technical skills and competency of licensed aircraft maintenance technicians, a similar framework does not exist for team leaders and engineering managers to evaluate and routinely review their expertise and training needs.

How to measure staff competence, skill and training?

Within the business, there should be systems in place to measure and monitor staff competence, from a technical, functional and behavioural point of view. The challenge is to develop an effective method to forecast the workforce profile over time.  People’s skills and competencies are constantly developing, while at the same time the job requirements are changing and evolving. Therefore, organisations need a tool that can inform strategic workforce planning and thus help to maintain and develop staff competency levels. Building such a tool requires a deep understanding of a wide range of technical expertise, set firmly in the context of the long-term goals of a given organisation.

The solution: Frazer-Nash case study

Frazer-Nash developed a proposed competency framework for engineering managers in the Aircraft MRO sector, addressing both their core (behavioural) and functional competencies. Such a framework provides substantial benefits to MRO organisations in terms of good governance, staff recognition and retention, and underpins a good safety management system.  

Aligned to this framework, Frazer-Nash also worked with a major UK aerospace organisation to develop a workforce planning solution which could summarise current - and forecast future - levels of engineering competence and workforce capability. The first key requirement for the client was to improve their management of staff competency across airworthiness and aerospace engineering disciplines, to ensure that the organisation was fit for purpose.  Secondly, the client wished to assess options for restructuring the organisation, whilst retaining and developing the necessary skills through that transition and for the longer term.   

Our initial step was to evaluate the current system used to measure staff competence, skills and training and to create standardised role profiles (SRPs) for a variety of roles in this complex organisation. Every client has their own unique requirements and therefore you need to establish the baseline levels of engineering competence and workforce capability within each individual organisation.

Additional quantitative role profiling data was then introduced to enable the client to gain a deeper and more appropriate evaluation of their workforce capabilities. This also identified any skills gaps and training requirements.
Once the data was collected and analysed, a bespoke software tool was developed in co-operation with the client. The tool uses data from the HR system in order to identify a baseline (present day) competence picture, before forecasting how this picture will change over a future five year period.

This tool required minimal client training and was easy to use. It came complete with a comprehensive user guide, acting as an aide-memoire, which explained the workforce projections and how to interpret the results.

What are the benefits?

Using the results from their new workforce planning tool the client was able to model the workforce advancement over time, enabling the strategic workforce planning to be accurately evaluated. Other benefits of using this type of tool include:-

•    It provides evidence that current and future competence targets are being met;
•    It reinforces strategic planning decisions that have already been made;
•    Flexibility to model different strategies for competency development;
•    It identifies training needs; and
•    It improves competitiveness of MRO organisations in the global market.

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