Printed headline: Workforce Bill
The aviation community’s many representatives—trade associations, unions, coalitions and others—have spent the past year on Capitol Hill focused on a central theme: ensuring an adequate MRO workforce. The businesses keeping the world in flight have produced the safest era in the history of commercial aviation while making the transport of goods and people more efficient than ever. All of this good work and progress is at risk, though, as the industry searches for its next generation of skilled talent.
The good news is the U.S. Congress is waking up to the problem, and lawmakers are considering ARSA-suggested legislation to directly address the technical talent shortage in aviation maintenance. The bipartisan bill offered by U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would authorize $5 million per year for a technical workforce grant program; innovative projects to attract, train and retain new technicians could earn up to $500,000 in grants each year.
But there’s an important catch: to be eligible for funding, an application would have to be submitted jointly by a business or union, school and governmental entity. The goal is to incentivize these stakeholders to work together toward new strategies to develop technical talent and encourage workers to pursue aviation careers.
The effort by Inhofe and Blumenthal could not be timelier. In addition to years of anecdotal evidence, a mountain of statistical data now points to a looming crisis: Boeing analysis suggests 118,000 new technicians will be needed in North America over the next two decades. The consulting firm Oliver Wyman has forecast that demand for aviation maintenance technicians will outstrip supply by 2022. The Aviation Technician Education Council recently determined that new entrants make up just 2% of the aviation technician population annually, while 30% of the workforce is at or near retirement age.
More than 80% of respondents to this year’s ARSA member survey report difficulty in finding qualified technicians, and more than half of responding companies have unfilled positions. It’s no surprise that with almost three-quarters of respondents wanting to expand their workforces this year, “difficulty finding and retaining technical talent” has been identified by ARSA members as one of the industry’s most significant strategic threats.
The Inhofe-Blumenthal aviation workforce bill would provide a basic tool for combating this threat. If successful, the grant program would offer a blueprint for various partnerships to build talent pipelines. This effort to enhance skilled employment would help grow and sustain businesses that can compete globally while continuing to ensure the safety of civil aviation aircraft around the world.
Christian A. Klein is executive vice president of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association.