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Shaping the next generation

Parents, schools and industry need to join forces to put aviation maintenance on the radar of today’s youth, as Steve Staedler found out

On a cold night in January, Erica Williams ventured to a suburban Milwaukee, WI, restaurant to attend an informational meet-and-greet with an airline looking to hire new pilots and technicians.

As a recent technical college graduate who hopes to have her A&P license by summer, Williams was excited to network with airline staff and explore job opportunities within its maintenance department. Her interaction with the airline started a few weeks before the informational session, as she had secured an interview with the carrier the next day for a tech store position.

“I love them,” she said of the airline. “I’ve heard so many good things about them. I just want to get my foot in the door and start working for a company that I feel strongly about.”

Candidates like Williams who are eager to break into aviation maintenance are the type of people carriers want to see attend their job sessions. The problem was, she was the only one interested in maintenance that showed up.

The apparent lack of interest in aviation maintenance is a growing concern throughout the industry, especially when compared to data recently released by the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC). It found that new entrants make up just 2% of the AMT population annually, while 30% of the workforce is at or near retirement age. To put these figures into context, ATEC data shows that FAA airman database includes about 285,000 certified mechanics. The average age of an FAA mechanic is 51, with 27% of the mechanic population at least 64 years old or higher. This is concerning because although about 6,200 new technicians join the industry each year, these new A&Ps will not keep pace with retirements, according to ATEC data.

“If people are retiring, and taking their lifetime of knowledge and experience with them before the new people come on board, that’s going to be a big loss of cultural knowledge across the entire industry,” said Bill Russo, Aviation Program Director, University of the District of Columbia Community College. “We need to find a way to attract these people, get them interested and into our programmes as quickly as we can, and then support them while they’re here. We need to do that as an industry.”

While the projected numbers of new AMTs aren’t very encouraging, especially when compared to Boeing’s 2016 forecast that 679,000 new commercial airline maintenance technicians will be needed globally by 2035, it does represent a terrific opportunity for people like Williams who are interested in aviation maintenance. Trained technicians are likely to be in demand for years to come. They can earn a good salary, and choose where they want to work. The trick for airlines, and the schools that train future technicians, is to pique people’s interest in aviation maintenance to ultimately get them in the door.

Collaborative effort

There’s no question young people have a myriad of career options available to them: four-year college; two-year college; military; entering the workforce. And within each of those broad categories, there are hundreds of other career paths to take. However, aviation maintenance is just one of them, and seemingly not on the minds of many.

“What we need to do is get the word out and put this career on their radar, because it’s not on there now,” said John Goglia, former National Transportation Safety Board member and President of the Aerospace Maintenance Competition Presented by Snap-on.

That seems to be the case, as ATEC data shows enrolment in the 171 certified active aviation maintenance technician school A&P programmes operating in the US is about 17,800, while FAAapproved system capacity in those programmes stands at about 34,000. This shows there’s plenty of room for new students.

So, what’s the best strategy to help recruit students into aviation maintenance? The common theme shared by many technical schools is that a collective effort between themselves, airlines and primary/high school institutions is needed to raise awareness that aviation maintenance is a strong, viable career choice for students to consider. >>


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