Most stakeholders in the MRO industry have already seen the writing on the wall when it comes to the projected workforce shortage, especially in mature markets such as the U.S. According to reports from Cavok, a division of Oliver Wyman, looming retirement for the baby-boom generation coupled with a lack of interest in mechanic-related jobs among millennials are poised to create a workforce shortage by 2022.
This shortage is expected to grow dramatically by 2027. The recent Pipeline Report issued by the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) found that new employees are not joining the industry in large enough numbers to fill that gap. To exacerbate matters, the report’s survey respondents estimated that 20% of aviation maintenance technician (AMT) school graduates are pursuing careers in other industries, with only 60% electing to take the FAA test for mechanic certification.
“With the shortage beginning in the middle of the next decade, we’re seeing that the people we need to reach to get interested in these careers are sitting in fifth grade right now,” says Robert Ireland, managing director of engineering and maintenance for Airlines for America. Citing the difference between mechanics currently nearing retirement (who had the thriving space program in the 1960s to spark their interest in the industry) and these younger generations, Ireland emphasizes the need to promote the cool new technologies happening in MRO. “It’s not always about turning wrenches. We have to get that word out and [demonstrate that] this is an attractive thing to do,” he says.
Dany Kleiman, vice president of AAR’s airframe maintenance group, echoes this viewpoint. “There’s a good chance this skill shortage will remain a challenge for years to come if we don’t raise awareness of these middle-income careers now,” he says.
To generate interest in AMT careers and create a new talent pipeline, AAR has invested in various educational initiatives and nonprofits focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These include programs for the Cradle of Aviation Museum and the Royal Aeronautical Society, as well as sponsoring the Design Hangar at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where students are encouraged to design, build and test prototypes through hands-on activities. Additionally, AAR partners with local grade schools, technical schools and universities to promote STEM education and career opportunities in the industry. AAR’s partnerships with these schools include providing apprenticeships.
“There has been a shortfall of high-quality technical training for jobs like AMTs since government education policy and funding moved away from technical schools and training to four-year colleges,” says Kleiman.
According to Brett Levanto, vice president of communications for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), Capitol Hill’s lack of understanding about the industry must be addressed to combat the impending labor shortage. “We’re working closely with other members of industry to help the government better define the aviation maintenance workforce, because one of the key foundational issues in the U.S. is that the government doesn’t really have a good grasp on how to count and measure what is going on in the industry,” he says. As an example, he points to how the current Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) occupational classification system lumps in experienced, certificated aircraft and/or powerplant (A&P) mechanics with brand-new, noncertificated technicians.
ATEC has been working with the BLS to address this classification and recently succeeded in efforts to get the agency to update the way its occupational outlooks are determined. After adopting new methodologies for calculating AMT workforce replacement needs, the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook has updated the aviation maintenance career outlook from “below average” to “average.” ATEC says this boost in numbers could mean better funding for educational institutions relying on scholarship and grant distributions, since these are often prioritized according to BLS data.
One other major government initiative in the works is the Aviation Workforce Development Pilot Program Bill, which ARSA, ATEC and companies such as AAR have thrown their support behind. The proposed bill would make grants of up to $500,000 per year available for businesses, unions, schools and government entities partnering to pursue creative ways to address the looming workforce shortage. ARSA’s hope is that the bill can be offered as an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which will be considered on the Senate floor later this year.
When it comes to creative approaches, companies like StandardAero are widening the net by dipping into other industrial sectors such as automotive and manufacturing. The MRO provider is training employees from those industries to enable them to cross over to aviation maintenance careers. Meanwhile, StandardAero also engages in efforts to attract young people to careers in the industry through internships and apprenticeship programs with local colleges. The company has donated tooling, engines and equipment to local schools to provide hands-on training and also has worked with these schools to develop certification programs for A&P mechanics and other technicians.
The military is another pool of potential AMT talent that interests MROs. A StandardAero spokesperson says the company tries to recruit veterans since they are well-suited for many maintenance and technical roles. More than 20% of StandardAero’s workforce are either retired or active/reserve military veterans, and the company is expanding its operations in cities such as San Antonio, which has an “embedded pool of military- and government-trained people.”
Haeco Americas—selected as a 2018 Military Friendly Employer by Victory Media—boasts a workforce of which nearly 40% are veterans. The MRO actively supports organizations that focus on helping transitioning service members find employment, such as Hiring Our Heroes and NC4ME. Additionally, the company participates in nationwide military and veteran hiring events. It continues to support local school partnerships, attend career expos and offer intern and apprenticeship programs to ensure a healthy pipeline of talent.
The company notes it is diligently working to make sure salary and benefits are competitive, and it stresses that it offers advancement opportunities.
At AAR, Kleiman says training of newly recruited mechanics on specific types of airframes is fast-tracked. “The goal is to have them productive on heavy iron within 6-7 months and then work to promote from within,” he says.
Levanto points out that an important factor for MROs to consider is the difference in attitudes younger generations have toward careers. He notes that several employers have told him their younger hires have different career aspirations than previous generations: “You don’t necessarily have them as a guaranteed resource for the 30 years of their career, and I think that’s going to be a real challenge.” He says this shift in attitudes will require the industry to change the way it approaches recruitment, training and engagement of personnel.
Ultimately, says Levanto, the industry must ensure AMTs are personally engaged in maintenance work so they stay committed to it for the long haul—wherever they end up working.