George Orwell said, “Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”
A long-held myth was fueled by a recent online petition—supported by nearly 20,000 individuals—questioning the U.S. Department of Labor’s classification of aviation maintenance professionals as “unskilled” labor. The petition was subsequently withdrawn after the author was “made aware that the Department of Labor has dropped the classification system.”
In reality, the department hasn’t used the labels “skilled,” “semi-skilled,” or “unskilled” since the 1980s. Justin Madden, legislative affairs director for the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, conducted extensive research on behalf of his constituency and found that usage of the terms is largely limited to the Social Security Administration, where aircraft mechanics are considered “skilled” labor for purposes of disability determinations. “The [Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association] will not stand idly by when our significance is challenged; fortunately, this particular perceived insult is a misconception,” said Madden.
While aviation maintenance professionals are not defined as “unskilled” by the administration, Madden contends that there are concerns with the classification system framework and how the government slices and dices aviation maintenance occupations.
The Standard Occupational Classification System is the federal government’s tool for organizing and categorizing every job in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics creates and disseminates an outlook for each occupation identified by the system. The reach of the data is vast. Policy makers, researchers and federal and state agencies use outlooks to analyze workforce needs, allocate funding and educate job seekers on career options. For example, the bureau’s outlook handbook is the basis for Government Accountability Office reports, many state student aid and grant-funding programs, and federal statistical analyses published by O*NET Online—the foremost U.S. resource for career exploration.
Currently, certificated and non-certificated mechanics are lumped into one occupation, while avionics technicians—whether they have a mechanic’s certificate or not—are considered a separate occupation all together. Madden argues that classifying certificated mechanics along with non-certificated technicians skews data by constraining a diverse class of professionals into a basic, single box, with a segment carved out for those that work primarily on avionics. “The impending shortage of [aviation maintenance technicians] is being concealed because of improper statistics based on a flawed classification system; this defect is causing undue harm to the craft,” he argues.
Last year, a group of 10 aviation trade associations asked the standard occupational classification committee to consider changes to its organization of aviation maintenance occupations. The framework is updated once every 10 years; the next edition is scheduled for publication in 2018.