Old Familiar Faces

Last month I wrote here about the looming or actual shortage of maintenance personnel. I have heard from a number of businesses and readers confirming there is an issue, industry-wide. Not yet a crisis but still problematic. Thank you for your input.

Let me mention that there were a number of people from our industry that had been laid off in years past. I know of several that struggled to find work in the aviation maintenance business suitable to their knowledge and level of achievement.

Now the shortage looms. As businesses struggle to find workers, please don’t overlook those that might be over 40 or those that have been out of the maintenance work force for a time. Let’s rehire all those that may be out of the industry not by choice but by circumstance. Make searching for and hiring those folks part of the overall strategy of finding enough of the right fit (which includes experience, qualifications and work ethics) for your maintenance professionals. There are still plenty left and they can be found.

In our annual Giants feature, AAR’s Danny Kleiman says this about the worker shortage: “The biggest challenges continue to be a significant shortage in trained and experienced resources to work on aircraft, as well as the cyclic nature of airframe maintenance work.” Haeco’s Jim Sokol agrees saying, “our biggest challenge is finding qualified people and retaining them.”

Our industry is not alone. The unemployment rate has continued to tick down steadily in recent years and that trend continues. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the unemployment rate has been decreasing, the number of job openings has been increasing, creating huge talent shortages for companies in many different fields. The BLS also says the United States will need 3 million more workers in the next ten years to fill low-skilled jobs so that the country will achieve economic growth. The Society for Human Resource Management says many employers are finding it difficult to find those qualified candidates I hear many of you struggling to find.

Other industries such as the medical field, science and math, engineering, and skilled labor like machinists, welders, plumbers, electricians and carpenters are also experiencing difficulty finding qualified workers.

A report by Global Risk Insights states, “The problem is that most companies are needing workers with middle skills that include technical knowledge and a better-than-average understanding of the tools and machines they will operate while also involving a high degree of problem-solving skills.” This is exactly what I am hearing from those of you in the trenches dealing with hiring.

And as we have been talking about for years, we, as an industry, need to be more proactive in our efforts to recruit, train, and retain the excellent caliber of employees that we need. We need to continue to start young, using outreach to junior high and high school students who might not have a clear career path in mind, and lure them into aviation maintenance.

Not every kid today must go to college. More vocational and technical training might be exactly what a young, as yet unfocused, young person needs. Lots of students would prefer the kind of hands on, on the job training that comes with A&P school and internships with companies in our niche. This certainly does not mean that they won’t eventually go to college and earn a degree or two. But in the meantime, they can get a real certification, put it work, earn good money and move forward in life.

If we continually send kids off to college to analyze the fine arts, who will we get to troubleshoot the fault on our jet? Our economy will benefit from that specialized, vocational training and I believe there are many young people today who would thrive in it and would prefer it to college. We just need to make it attractive.

Speaking of money, that is one of the trickiest points, isn’t it? Hourly rates of pay vs. shop rates. How can we justify raising one with out the other? Well, time and trial will tell. If there is a true shortage, then the market will bear these increases.

Diversity is also something we need to do better with in aviation in general. Don’t exclude whole populations just because they are different from what has been typical in the industry for years. Women and minorities like airplanes, too. And trust me, airplanes cannot tell the gender or skin color of someone repairing them.

I wish you all luck in finding enough of the right employees to do the complex, challenging and something frustrating work of keeping the fleets of our world safely flying.