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Seasonal Layoffs Send Mixed Signals

The commercial aviation MRO industry needs hundreds of thousands of new mechanics and job prospects are vast. Caveat emptor: summer season layoffs are possible.

Printed headline: Inconsistent Messaging

When mixed messaging clouds a subject, it can be difficult to discern the truth. Yet the MRO industry is doing just that—on a critically important matter.

For starters, industry surveys have repeatedly shown that one of top challenges for MRO companies is a shortage of mechanics and technicians. Boeing forecasts that 745,000 new mechanics will need to enter the global workforce over the next 20 years to account for fleet growth, retirements and attrition. To address this, MROs of all sizes have been reaching out to their local schools and communities to publicize career opportunities and to work with educators to tailor programs to meet their needs. Last year alone, countless examples point to proactive outreach initiatives from the industry. This is all solid progress.

Yet as we approach the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, airlines are keen to keep their assets flying, bringing in valuable revenue during this peak season. There is a reluctance to ground aircraft for maintenance. This is not new, nor is the practice of MROs laying off employees during the summer to account for that cyclicality.

For instance, AAR “will be scaling back operations at our Rockford [Illinois] MRO facility due to a seasonal decline in maintenance activity,” says a spokesperson. 

While the Rockford facility is AAR’s newest acquisition, it is not the only one beset with cyclical problems. “We experience this cycle at all of our heavy maintenance facilities each summer” as airlines fly their peak travel season," says the spokesperson. Many Rockford employees affected by the reduction will be offered jobs at its other sites that have more maintenance activity.

“Laying off due to seasonality is still pretty common,” says an industry source. This is especially true for MROs that perform base maintenance for smaller carriers or that complete a lot of ad hoc work, which can be pushed to non-peak flying seasons.

MROs are for-profit businesses that need to meet customer demands yet earn a profit. However, doesn’t it send a mixed message to prospective students and employees if you are routinely laying off people every summer? It certainly does not send a good signal about job stability or long-term career prospects.

Asked whether contract labor could balance the peaks and lows, Sachi Green, senior vice president of recruiting and operations for STS Technical Services, says no, because “it is one of tightest labor pools we’ve seen.” She emphasizes that MROs want to employ their staff over the summer but do not have enough work during the summer slump. She also points out that many MROs work with multiple staffing organizations, so their approaches are not typically holistic or optimized.

Clearly, this problem is crying out for a solution.

Airlines are becoming increasingly adept at slotting in maintenance dates at optimal times for their seasonal schedule. The ball is in the industry’s court as to how it can avoid sending mixed messages to those who it most wants to engage. The upcoming workforce is watching and waiting.

TAGS: Workforce
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