Printed headline: Stepping up
Each December, the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) publishes The Pipeline Report—a compilation of data derived from aviation maintenance technician school (AMTS) survey responses, FAA databases and National Center for Education statistics. Previous ATEC reports highlighted the leaky pipeline of would-be mechanics who fail to attain certification or forgo careers in aviation altogether. The 2018 report suggests the tide is turning, in direct correlation with enhanced aviation community involvement in technician education. Combatting top deterrents should be the focus of industry-education partnerships looking to capitalize on the momentum.
According to the FAA’s airman certification branch, 63% of new mechanics come from Part 147 maintenance schools. The remainder achieve certification on the basis of previous civilian (27%) or military (10%) experience. The report says that the current AMTS framework has the potential to double the number of mechanics it produces (4,033 in 2017) if more attention is paid to (1) encouraging exiting students to take the FAA mechanic test, (2) better marketing and defining career opportunities in aviation, (3) ensuring schools have relevant equipment and materials to support aviation training programs and (4) hiring and maintaining adequate numbers of qualified AMTS instructors.
The data suggest that an uptick in aviation community involvement—40% of survey respondents cited industry partnerships as a reason for anticipated enrollment increases—has helped make progress toward the first two objectives. In 2017, the number of students choosing non-aviation jobs over their aviation counterpart dropped by nearly half over the previous year. And 70% of AMTS students are taking the FAA mechanic exam upon graduation, a 10-point increase over the previous two years.
Another contributing factor: The average starting hourly rate for AMTS alumni is increasing, reported as $19.70 per hour, up by 40 cents from the previous year.
While industry is seemingly doing a better job of retaining individuals already in the pipeline, ATEC suggests more can be done to draw in future mechanics. While schools anticipate a very aggressive 40% increase in aviation program enrollments next year, similar projections in years past proved overly optimistic. During the last five years, AMTS enrollment has stayed relatively stagnant, increasing by only 1.7%. And the number of individuals obtaining mechanic certification by virtue of AMTS program completion is far lower now than it was 15 years ago.
Schools will need to increase enrollment soon to meet growing demand. Currently, new entrants make up 2% of the population annually, while 30% of the workforce is at or near retirement age. At that rate, the mechanic population is expected to decrease 5% in the next 15 years. Forecasts by the U.S. government and Boeing also project a need for thousands of additional mechanics in the next 10-20 years. Assuming the number of new mechanics obtaining certification on the basis of military or civilian experience continues its downward trend (as has been the case over the last decade), schools will need to increase enrollment by 30% starting this year to make up the deficit.
Compounding the challenge: A school’s ability to increase enrollment is largely dependent on growing its own staff. Nearly 90% of survey respondents said hiring and retaining qualified instructors posed some risk to their aviation programs, a very real limitation to program expansion.
The report also provides intelligence for companies looking to make partnerships more impactful. Respondents report that the best way to recruit a new graduate is to offer that person employment while in school. Tuition reimbursement programs and internship opportunities were also high on the list. And more concerted focus on supplying relevant training equipment and materials would address what was cited as the second-largest threat to technical schools (right behind hiring and retaining qualified instructors).
As a whole, the report reiterates the common assertion that industry-education partnerships clearly defining and communicating available career paths are one of the best tools for attracting talent and drawing more individuals into aviation careers. ATEC is using the findings as a jumping-off point for a new awareness campaign, currently dubbed Choose Aerospace.
“The campaign is a partnership of aerospace stakeholders brought together to address a common problem,” says Kevin Dallaire, founding partner and manager of recruiting at Piedmont Airlines. “All segments of aviation that get involved will have a seat at the table and a say in how we move forward.”
The project seeks to identify and implement solutions to the aerospace workforce shortage and spur interest in aerospace careers. Early initiatives will include extensive research aimed at developing targeted messages and a media outreach plan.
“We are adopting strategies that have proven very successful in other similar industries,” says Kim Pritchard, United Airlines senior manager of Tech Ops for talent acquisition. “It’s time the aviation community pooled its resources to better promote our career opportunities. The project will help increase enrollment and also benefit underserved populations and communities.”