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Many Paths To Recruiting More Mechanics

Shops can learn from other industries, must start early to attract workers.

“People used to come to us,” remembered John Duncan, deputy associate administrator for aviation safety at FAA. “No more, now we have to seek them.” Duncan was addressing the mechanic recruiting challenge for delegates attending the U.S. Aeronautical Repair Station Association symposium on March 14. The challenge was viewed from several perspectives in a later session by three experts.

Christopher Martini directs the office of career, technical and adult education for Arlington, Virginia, public schools. Martini talked about how is office has successfully addressed a similar challenge, getting young people familiar with and interested in auto repair jobs.

He wants students to see that auto repair can lead to several careers, in fixing cars, in finance, in management and insurance. He starts off with parent-student meetings with local auto businesses in the evenings, “to open their eyes.” Next comes a GM-developed program for students interviewing and interning for eight summer week with local dealerships. The internships pay $9 to $10 per hour, start with simple tasks and move up to more complicated ones. An associate degree at a local community college is also encouraged, and some students eventually get full engineering degrees.

Martini says he starts with about 160 kids in the program and usually has about 25 who stay the course. He thinks something similar might work for aviation mechanics.

Ryan Goertzen, vice president of workforce development at AAR, has indeed been doing something similar for mechanics. Goertzen joked that the only aviation career most high-school students previously knew about is being a pilot. “They hear you can make $300,000 for working nine months, but don’t know it can take 40 years to do that.”

Goertzen now runs AAR’s Eagle Pathways program, in which students are bussed into AAR shops to understand what aircraft maintenance workers do and the variety of duties involved, from fixing to planning, record-keeping and quality assurance.

Another AAR program reimburses student for tuition at college, for example 300 hours of sheet-metal training in Oklahoma City, and later in South Chicago for African-American and female students, two groups AAR wants to tap more extensively.

AAR also seeks to unbundle the courses in the standard 18-month aviation maintenance technician program so that students can work their way to an eventual AMT certificate. “Soon we will be able to issue a certificate under ODA [FAA Organizational Design Approval],” Goertzsen noted.

AAR is also looking at a sheet-metal course in Decatur Central High School in Indianapolis. Goertzen says no one at Decatur had heard of AAR, even though the school is less than three minutes from AAR’s shops. “They have heard of Southwest and United Airlines, so I can use that to help sell them a career.”  Some students might work at AAR only for several years before going to work for a major airline, but Goertzen figures he is still coming out ahead on the deal. And so are the students. “They were thinking about MacDonald’s before, we focused them on a better career they could have.”

The third panel member, Yvette Rose, is senior vice president of the Cargo Airline Association and president of the Aero Club Foundation of Washington, DC. Rose goes to DC schools to publicize opportunities in aviation. “We used to focus on high schools and now do middle schools and will have to go earlier to exposes kid by the third grade to attract them,” Rose explained.

She wants to get kids to think “expansively” about aviation career paths. Traditionally, an AMT certificate has been the gold standard for mechanics, but Rose argued that non-certified people can also work in repairs. “We want to bring anyone who is highly skilled or eager to learn into the industry.”

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