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Future proofing

AAR is taking proactive steps to ensure that it has a steady stream of new recruits joining its MRO facilities. Ian Harbison reports
The recent improved financial performance of US airlines has had an unforeseen effect on labour in the MRO industry, says Chris Jessup, Chief Commercial Officer at AAR. Until a few years ago, achieving a balance between personnel retiring and being lured to major airlines, and finding replacements was manageable, but as those carriers have been able to renegotiate contracts with improved salary and pension provisions, older maintenance personnel have been tempted to retire. Employees are lured 
away by higher wages at an airline.
Within the company, the age demographic varies between the facilities – there are many older staff in the Oklahoma City facility, which has been in the company for decades, compared to the more recent facility in Rockford, IL and Duluth, MN – but he says it is pretty close to the industry average, with about a third of the workforce coming up retirement in the next five years. 
Compounding the problem is that the necessary young talent is just not there in the education system. Previously, the company would reach out to technical colleges and universities to find people looking at aviation maintenance as a career. It is now establishing relationships with high schools to reach students who are 16-18 years old and, at some of its bigger facilities, has held family days, with walks through the hangar and workshops. 
This is designed to attract students who will eventually end up with an A&P certification after four years. As an incentive, the company provides annual funding to offset tuition fees – students who pursue the FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate are eligible for up to $15,000 in tuition reimbursements.
However, he makes the point that AAR will continue to provide assistance if a trainee, having become an employee, wants to study part time to take a four-year degree. In addition, the company actively promotes internal promotion to allow technicians to become managers. Tuition reimbursement is also available for graduates joining the company after university.
Of course, this is an industry-wide problem. The Aviation Technician Education Council, compiles information about A&P mechanic FAA certificate holders, the educational institutions that prepare the majority of these individuals for careers in aviation maintenance, and the companies that employ maintenance professionals. In its 2018 Pipeline Report, released in December, it highlighted:
The mechanic population is projected to decrease 
5% in the next 15 years
Schools have the capacity to double production of 
A&P candidates. As of mid-November, enrolment 
at  AMT training schools was 17,800, nearly half their capacity of 34,300. As institutions are ramping up recruitment activities and expect enrolment to increase, industry employers can tout the benefits 
of credentialing, thereby attracting more students 
to those schools
 • Aviation must increase its focus on retaining A&P candidates. 20% of candidates pursue careers outside of the industry, and only 60% elect to 
take the FAA mechanic certification test
 • While the percentage of female A&Ps is increasing, 
it remains low, at less than 3%. This presents an opportunity to help address a looming shortage.
However, AAR has taken a number of decisive steps to remedy the situation, starting with the appointment of Ryan Goertzen as Vice President of Maintenance Workforce Development and the launch of the AAR EAGLE Career Pathway Program late last year. The company says EAGLE (Ethics, Airworthiness, Greatness, Leadership, Engagement) demonstrates how students can earn portable, stackable skills and earn a good living wage. It will be linked to the company’s five US facilities in Duluth, MN; Indianapolis, IN; Miami, FL; Rockford, IL; and Oklahoma City, OK.
Goertzen said in a company report called EAGLE Pathways: Bridging the Middle-Skills Gap to Careers in Aviation: “The maintenance career path has been shrouded in mystery and occurring beyond the security fence, limiting access and understanding by the general public. EAGLE attempts to bring clarity by defining the career path beyond the technician to positions in management, maintenance operations and quality control. Within these defined paths are even more positions and departments that provide for opportunities for personnel to grow their aviation maintenance career.” 
EAGLE kicked off in October with the signing of a partnership with the College of Aviation of Western Michigan University (WMU) in Kalamazoo, MI, approximately half way between AAR facilities in Windsor and Rockford.
The five-year scheme features job shadowing and mentoring opportunities, as well as the sharing of proprietary software information with students interested in careers as aircraft maintenance technicians. Students will receive academic support, be monitored throughout their academic careers, and have an opportunity to interview with AAR after graduation.
In December, a new Aviation Futures Training Center to train students in aviation sheet metalworking was announced by AAR and Olive-Harvey College in Chicago. The 1,115m² centre will launch in March 2019 as an extension of Olive-Harvey College’s Transportation, Distribution and Logistics (TDL) Center. The aviation sheet metalworking course prepares graduates for the CertTEC Certification.
In Phase I, students who complete the 300-hour sheet metal course will earn a portable industry certification to either gain entry-level employment in aviation, or a companion industry such as heavy manufacturing, boating, automotive repair or HVAC. They can elect to continue their education and enrol in Phase II, a composites course to be introduced in 2020, and then, if they choose, Phase III, aviation electronics, to be offered in 2021. >>

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