MRO Management

MRO Middle East: Joramco addresses the skills challenge amid ‘bow wave’ of demand

Joramco, chief executive, Fraser Currie
photo_camera Joramco, chief executive, Fraser Currie

Aviation needs to develop more specialist engineers and target a younger intake of talent to address a looming skills shortage, according to leading MRO Joramco.

Speaking to Aviation Business News at last month’s MRO Middle East trade show in Dubai, Chief Executive Officer Fraser Currie, said demand for aviation engineering looks set for a sustained boom.

As airline fleets expand with record new orders being placed with airframe manufacturers, he foresees the current capacity challenge to persist for at least the next five years.

That is why Joramco is expanding its facility in Jordan by five maintenance lines to take it to 22 in total, constructing the largest hangar ever built in the Middle East region.

However, despite the increase in physical space, Currie says MRO capacity in general is not keeping pace with aviation expansion and a lack of engineers is the crux of the problem.

“We identified some time ago, during Covid, that there was going to be a bow wave of demand coming,” he said. “That’s why we took the strategic decision to increase capacity in Jordan.”

As well as adding five engineering lines capable of handling A380s, Joramco has maintained a wide demographic of clients, including 12 flag carriers like Emirates and Lufthansa.

A ten lines, 10-year deal with Ryanair is seen as ground-breaking and testament to the budget carrier’s confidence that Joramco can deliver on time as it rapidly expands its fleet.

Asked when he believes the current capacity crunch may end, Currie said: “I don’t see an end to it, to be honest, not for the next four to five years, but even that’s just a line in the sand.

“The order books at Boeing and Airbus are booming and fleets are expanding, like Ryanair. They are not retiring aircraft they are purely growing to a fleet of over 800.

“What we are not seeing is MRO capacity increasing at the same rate. We have lots of talk and action in terms of people building MRO capacity but not enough take up in new engineers.

“The industry has moved on. When I came into the industry in the early 80s it was the career of choice for a guy like me. It was seen as being cutting edge, now it’s not.

“It’s been like that for a number of years. Young people see themselves as being more aspirational in terms of wanting to get to a higher position more quickly.

“The barriers to entry for coming in as an aviation engineer are seen as being quite high because it’s going to take a minimum of four years to become qualified.

“Then it’s another three or four years before you start building up the approvals and experience to earn good money.”

Currie believes there is a solution to this problem and that is to train more specialists to target a younger cohort who are not educated to degree level but have the drive to achieve.

“There is a solution,” he says, “and that is coming up with a hybrid of not having engineers that are as broadly trained in skills as people were in my generation.

“We were engineers that did everything. You are going to have to move to specialists with skills that are much more specific, almost the way production works in factories.”

Currie concedes this sort of change will not be easy and will bring its own issues, but he says aviation must find a way compete for Gen Z talent that expects to be able to work from home.

“Aviation is slow to change and we have to make the industry more attractive. We cannot just keep churning out licenced engineers that can do everything. It has to be broken into skill sets.”

Joramco operates its own engineering academy that offers a four-year training program, and Currie said it is actively targeting entrants who have not been educated to degree level.

“In aviation engineering being licenced is more important than having a degree. A kid who’s 16 who has not done that well in their academic qualifications, they are the guys we want.

“We need to reduce the barriers to entry. Just because someone comes out of school with a limited set of qualifications does not mean they are incapable of becoming an engineer.”

Joramco has started scouring the globe for the skills it needs, but Currie said it is determined to remain a proudly Jordanian company. Today, 97% of its staff are from the country.

And with technological advances, like the paperless workshop and robotics, still failing the cost benefit analysis, there’s still no solution to the man, or woman-power conundrum.

“The airframe MRO business is still quite an old fashioned, hands-on, people business,” said Currie.

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