Obtaining sufficient mechanics has become important enough that at least one major U.S. MRO has elevated the challenge from Human Resources to the C Suite. Aviation Technical Services has chosen Dana Eden, from the health sector, to address the challenge as chief people officer.
This occurs as ATS is seeking more than 200 mechanics immediately, and Eden expects growth will require even more in the future.
The coming shortage of mechanics is “old news,” says Eden. But she sees opportunities as well: “a great opportunity for those just joining or returning to the workforce, or even changing careers, to learn a highly desirable skill and earn a decent living.” Eden notes that many firms subsidize or reimburse the cost of obtaining certifications. She also sees a lot of opportunity for advancement, from apprentices to master mechanics and, for those interested, management roles.
ATS itself is seeing the strongest challenges in recruiting avionic mechanics and higher-skilled mechanics. Eden says few come out of training programs geared toward these careers. And she wonders whether industry has oversold the desirability of four-year college degrees.
To solve ATS’s recruitment challenges, Eden calls maintaining a competitive compensation and benefits package “foundational.” The company is now creating an in-house training academy that will take unskilled men and women and turn them into technicians and mechanics. “It’s a major investment on the part of the organization, but one that we believe is absolute necessary in the current environment.”
To retain highly skilled workers at retirement age, ATS is looking at inviting them to serve as mentors or instructors in the academy and offering reduced schedules. “Having some fun along the way never hurts either,” Eden notes. The MRO recognizes employees with luncheons, barbeques with live music, ice cream sundaes, ping pong and football in the company Café.
Although new to MRO, Eden believes technical programs need funding and jobs must be accurately classified to paint a realistic picture of the demand for and supply of skilled workers. “I also believe that we have an opportunity to guide school-age young adults to these very respectable careers and try to erase any stigma that may exist around choosing blue-collar occupations.”
Eden is not certain whether mechanic wages need to rise overall, but says, “perhaps raising the entry-level rate would entice more people to enter the field.” But MROs should avoid artificially increasing wages by competing with each other in a tit-for-tat game. “That’s why it is so important to take a holistic approach in ensuring that pay, benefits, recognition and organizational culture are all aligned.” She believes workplace values, quality of leadership and development opportunities are also important.
ATS managers know they have lost some workers because the workers did not understand the advancement opportunities available to them, so Eden wants to focus on that miscommunication. The MRO is also evaluating its compensation program, hoping to ensure that the time it takes to progress through pay ranges is flexible and aligned with the pace at which workers obtains new skills.