Aviation Business News

A call to action: Attracting new talent

A PIA student inspecting landing gear
photo_camera A PIA student inspecting landing gear

Steven Sabold, vice president of operations at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA), advises that the future of aviation maintenance depends on attracting new talent.

With the aviation industry steadily recovering from its Covid-induced setbacks and global passenger traffic now exceeding pre-pandemic levels, the demand for new aviation workers is growing fast. Unfortunately, new talent is not joining the field anywhere near the pace necessary to meet expected personnel demands over the next 20 years.

In order to meet this challenge, the aviation industry must find more effective ways of attracting, training, and retaining new workers – and it needs to happen soon.

The demand is there

To be clear, the problem is not a lack of career opportunities. On the contrary, labour openings are increasing faster than candidates can be found. For example, Boeing estimates 690,000 new aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs) will be needed over the next 20 years in order to keep the worldwide fleet flying. Meanwhile, Airbus predicts 40,000 new aircraft will be needed to meet the growing demand for passenger travel by 2042.

With new and qualified technicians needed to maintain so many new planes, the role of an AMT should be one of the fastest-growing careers in the US. This is especially true with 90,000 active AMTs approaching retirement age, as noted in the latest edition of the ATEC Pipeline Report.

In fact, at the current rate of attrition, the commercial aviation sector is expected to fall 31,000 mechanics short of its personnel needs by 2031, while other industry segments such as cargo, EMS and business aviation are also projected to have AMT shortages within the same timeframe.

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Steven Sabold, vice president of operations at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA)
Steven Sabold, vice president of operations at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA)
Misconceptions about skilled trades

Why aren’t new technicians lining up to benefit from the aviation maintenance field’s robust salaries, rewarding professional development and reliable long-term job security? The core issue is that many traditional jobs, including the skilled trades, have not been perceived as viable career paths by a significant portion of the population. While this misguided view is a serious problem, its solution involves changing America’s view of labour itself, which is a particularly thorny challenge.

Since the middle of the 20th century, students from all walks of life have been encouraged to pursue degrees from four-year colleges as the ideal pathway to attain the jobs of their dreams. At the same time, support for hands-on skills training has all but disappeared from the American curriculum.

Today, few high schools offer students the same opportunity to develop practical skills such as mechanical repair, woodworking or culinary arts that their parents and grandparents enjoyed, which has led to greatly reduced interest in the trades.

As a result, several generations of learners have grown up with the mistaken belief that a successful career is one that never involves physical labour, instead opting to incur significant student loan debt in pursuit of bachelor’s degrees and beyond. Because of this, trade schools and mechanical learning were often seen as last resorts for the academically disadvantaged.

This diminished view of the value of labour has done a deep disservice to the skilled trades and those who perform them. But seen through this skewed lens, it’s no surprise that more young people haven’t been jumping at the chance to enter the trades, or that more workers in other fields aren’t seizing the opportunity to switch to a more satisfying AMT career.

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A PIA student working on an engine rebuild
A PIA student working on an engine rebuild
A shift in attitudes

Fortunately, there are signs that society’s attitude toward careers in the skilled trades could finally be changing. A 2023 Thumbtack survey of 1,000 young adults found that 47 per cent of them would consider a career in the skilled trades, with a strong desire to avoid the burden of student loan debt and the need for job security in the age of artificial intelligence (AI) serving as serious influences on their career considerations.

Their interest may even be evolving into action: while other areas of college enrolment have been struggling in the post-pandemic era, enrolment in trade schools increased by nearly 12 per cent between 2021 and 2022, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

One big reason why trades like aviation maintenance may soon see a new wave of interest from practical-minded job seekers is the inherent satisfaction that can be found in doing important work and doing it well.

Unlike many degree-dependent jobs in fields such as business, marketing and communications, where the work is often digital and the results largely abstract, working as an AMT means making physical contact with machinery, tools, and torque in order to keep planes operational and people safe.

As such, the training for this field should showcase the exciting real-world learning experiences this career path provides to attract the type of talent that excels at solving hands-on problems.

For example, at aviation maintenance schools such as Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA), students are investing their attention in detail-oriented projects like inspecting a turbine engine, assembling a working radio and simulating the 100-hour inspection of an aircraft.

These career prep challenges offer students who love to work with their hands the opportunity to develop their dexterity, cultivate their problem-solving skills, bond through teamwork and take personal pride in a job well done; all while learning lessons that will be directly applicable to their real-world responsibilities as professional AMTs.

Supporting and nurturing

The future of aviation depends on re‑establishing aviation maintenance as a viable and desirable career path in the minds of job seekers nationwide. Part of this process involves encouraging students and teachers alike to ask themselves a key question: what makes work worthwhile?

If they feel that a worthy job is one that offers them security, opportunity and the ability to make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions, they may find their calling as AMTs.

After all, there’s no question that the aviation industry is actively calling for more hands-on help. But in order for America to heed that call, they need to hear it in the first place.

This feature was first published in MRO Management – April 2024. To read the magazine in full, click here.

Aviation Business News (ABN) is highlighting the staffing crisis in aviation this year with our Best Places To Work In Aviation awards which will celebrate those companies that are successfully driving new talent into the sector and retaining valuable skilled staff.
The deadline for firms to enter is June 7. Click here to register.


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