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Fitting the bill

Finding suitable candidates for an MRO job should go beyond technical capabilities, says Mario Pierobon

The aircraft MRO industry has in recent years been witnessing a shortfall with respect to the availability of personnel which is likely to increase as – with forecast future aircraft deliveries – the number of aircraft in operation grows in absolute terms. Given the recent challenge of finding personnel to cater to the needs of an expanding industry, one issue is that recruitment processes do not apply the right scrutiny in assessing job applicants. Indeed, the first thing recruiters look at in the CV of candidates is if they have the right hard skills to do the job they are applying for. Yet the soft, non-technical, skills of job applicants are at least as important as their technical ones, if not more important. Whether or not a new recruit fits within an aircraft maintenance team can greatly affect the overall morale of the crew and its performance.


MRO organisations are increasingly paying attention to the soft skills of personnel and specific efforts are being committed as part of recruitment and both initial and recurrent employee development.


Recruitment practices

“We have people that come directly from our Part-147 maintenance training organisation (MTO) and other people that we hire from outside and have special skills like welding, painting or logistics. For the whole variety of skills we hire, the non-technical skills are as important, if not even more important than the technical skills”, says Jorge Leite, Vice President of Quality and Safety at TAP Maintenance & Engineering. “For example, the sense of responsibility, the ability and honesty to talk about errors people make, the ability to turn to management and ask for help are all skills which we try to survey when we do the initial interviews for the people we hire.”


The non-technical skills of personnel in the maintenance environment are certainly important in improving safety and effectiveness in the workplace. “Skills like communication, confidence, and truthfulness are some of them. Just imagine the consequences when there is a defect and the person does not care,” says Jens Lange, Head of Line Maintenance at Lufthansa Technik Hamburg. “Our company looks at non-technical skills from the very beginning. We want people who are willing to do their job day and night and are interested in technology and aircraft. Our people need to be able to communicate with the whole aviation environment, not only about technical items in detail with fellow technicians or engineering professionals. They need to communicate in daily operations with pilots, ground crews, and sometimes even passengers. Therefore they need to speak different ‘languages’, like technical English, operational English, simplified English for technical issues, and even English for passengers. Our professions require confidence; the engineers must be sure of using the correct documentation, doing things right, and always be aware of possible failures in the system, like within documentation or maintenance manuals. At Lufthansa Technik we sort the right people out from the beginning. They have to pass an assessment before we hire them, no matter if it is for vocational training or to work as mechanics. Even when they are part of our organisation, we continuously assess the non-technical skills and behaviours.”


A proactive practice for ensuring a consistent assessment of non-technical skills is involving psychologists in the recruitment process. “We run psychology tests and we try to assess the adequacy and maturity of the non-technical skills. For maintenance technicians there is a specific set of tests, for engineering personnel another set and for personnel hired for skills other than maintenance and engineering there is again another set of tests,” explains Leite. “Usually these consist of a written test with multiple graphic symbols, figures and questions. Then there is also an interview with a psychologist, and this is normally conducted as a group interview. Candidates have to discuss given subjects among themselves and the psychologist observes and analyses their behaviour during the discussions, especially how they behave in a team.”


Initial training

Non-technical skills are not just born into individuals; they can be nurtured into personnel as part of delivering human factors training. MRO personnel have several opportunities to undergo human factors training throughout their careers and develop their non-technical skills. The first opportunity they have is when they train to get a Part-66 aircraft maintenance license at a Part-147 MTO. The human factors module is one of the 17 modules making up the basic knowledge requirements for category A, B1, B2, B3 and C aircraft maintenance licences detailed at appendix I to EASA Part-66. The module includes topics like human performance and limitations, social psychology, factors affecting performance, physical environment, tasks, communication, human error, and hazards in the workplace. >>

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