The biggest challenge in recruiting U.S. aircraft mechanics is getting ones with the experience that younger mechanics just do not have, according to Stephen Wallace, president of LAUNCH Technicians, a division of LAUNCH Technical Workforce Solutions. “The older ones are starting to retire. Finding young people who are interested is not tough, but finding experienced ones is much tougher,” Wallace explains.
As a result, LAUNCH has seen unprecedented increases in pay. In 2018, pay for its contracted mechanics has increased as much as 40% in some cases, and average pay went up 15%.
These wage pressures have been especially hard on third-party MROs, as their airline customers seek both fewer hours and reduced hourly rates, Wallace says.
Avionics technicians are in the highest demand, as are mechanics who can work with electrical and software systems. Wallace says it is not too difficult to find workers who can install avionic components, but it is difficult to find ones who can troubleshoot them. “People who can lay wire are not hard to find, but finding guys who understand why it is not working is much harder. There is very high demand for these.”
And anyone who has an aviation maintenance technician license can pretty much pick the place they want to work and how many hours they work.
Airlines, which generally pay the highest wages and benefits, get first pick of available mechanics, and independent MROs come next. Furthermore, airline onsite staff can spot the best mechanics and managers in their outsource shops, and there is no way shops can prevent their airline customers from stealing these top workers.
Wallace thinks it is important for somebody to invest in training mechanics. Airlines used to do it, but now independent shops are much more important, yet they may not have sufficient profit margins to invest in training.
Shops that can offer plenty of overtime once had an advantage in recruiting. But in today’s busy market, Wallace says overtime is “a qualifier, not a distinguisher.”
And no matter what benefits are offered, “Cash is going to rule everything,” the LAUNCH recruiter says. “If the guy down the street is paying 20-30% more, they will go there.’