[Update: This post is focused on potential causes for why younger people may not be as engaged in MRO as they could be. The panel also had many suggestions for solutions, which are outlined in another post
This afternoon's panel at the ARSA Annual Repair Symposium got a roomful of MRO experts talking about how to attract and retain the next generation's workforce, and one thing was clear: MROs believe that the aging workforce is tied for the #2 long-term problem riddling the commercial aviation aftermarket industry, yet the right way to fix the issue is unclear. For those of you who are wondering, the respondents' vote for #1 long-term threat to the industry was over-regulation, and the workforce issue was tied with concerns about the FAA and high fuel prices.
In the MRO world, the "build it and they will come" philosophy doesn't seem to be working out so well. According to the latest ARSA member survey, about 57% of the association members surveyed said that they have had trouble filling technical positions in the past two years. There are plenty of aircraft parts to repair, but these young people simply aren't coming. But why? Below, I've summarized some of the possible explanations brought up by various attendees during the panel (keep in mind that they are opinions and not necessarily the reasons why this trend continues. Nor are they my opinions).
- The average starting hourly wage for an entry-level MRO technician position is $12.92, and the median starting wage was $13.50 (according to the most recent ARSA member survey). Why not take a similar mechanic job in a competing industry that could pay more?
- Young people and their parents believe that aviation maintenance is an unstable industry, especially because of recent layoffs. Therefore, they don't know about all of these job openings that MROs have available and see the commercial aftermarket as an insecure option.
- Potential technicians simply do not know what aviation maintenance entails, both from a professional and educational standpoint. One conference speaker volunteered the anecdote of a student asking him what a director of planning did, because he had no idea how it fit into the MRO world.
- MROs may not be involved enough in educational institutions. According to the ARSA survey findings, 13% of respondents serve on an advisory board at a technical school, about 26% participate on on-campus recruitment at technical schools and just over 5% give scholarships to current students. About 59% post jobs on internet job boards, yet only 16% use social media as a recruiting tool.
- There's not enough emphasis on recruiting middle school students, and by the time they hit high school they are already planning on doing another career. Many during the conversation said that there's a growing need to recruit younger students every few years.
- Aviation maintenance schools aren't really glamorous places to hang out in all day. Unlike future pilots, future AMTs aren't boarding Cessnas to go on exhilarating discovery flights. Instead, they just visit a school and see a bunch of "boring," antiquated, greasy equipment. To be fair, schools are on a budget and would love to have the latest state of the art equipment, but many unfortunately can't afford high-tech tools or the electricity costs to power up a large aircraft on site, even if it's donated.
- Getting an A&P license doesn't cut it anymore--MROs need specialized workers with experience in structural elements, sheet metal and other value added skills.
Now, here's what I find really interesting. Most of the attendees raised their hands when ARSA's Sarah MacLeod asked them if their children went to college. When she asked if their children were going into a technical profession, many of the hands dropped. When she then asked those with their hands raised if their children were going to be an AMT, even more hands dropped until just a handful of people still had their arms in the air. I can't say for sure what this means, but isn't it something to think about?
Is your company finding innovative ways to engage with future AMTs? Please let us know. Comments on any items in the list above are welcome. Even though there were many different opinions about what to do about this dilemma, the general sense I got from the comments was that there should be a more unified front on the part of repair stations to deal with these issues together as an industry. I am sure that ARSA would love to hear your feedback.