The title of this article might seem a tad dramatic but nearly every maintenance, repair and overhaul organisation (MRO) is facing a growing skills shortage and they are struggling to find competent, skilled technicians to fill their workforce pipelines. We need more than 769 000 new aircraft maintenance professionals worldwide to be trained in the next 20 years to ensure that the world’s fleet of aircraft continue to be maintained to the highest safety standards. The demand for skilled workers will be highest in the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific MRO market followed by Boeing who stated that they need 249,000 technicians trained by 2040.
The pandemic had a negative impact on admission numbers for aircraft maintenance apprenticeships and many MROs lost people through redundancy, furlough and early retirement. Industry leaders were forced to make some difficult decisions and many older aircraft maintenance professionals decided to retire rather than wait out the uncertainty. As we slowly emerge from the pandemic, there is a noticeable lack of workforce, which means that we will not be able to get as many aircraft in the air.
However, despite the pandemic, there is a general lack of young people interested in pursuing a career in aircraft maintenance and, those who do follow that path, are often poached by other industries who recognise the value of their skills, with 23% of newly qualified aircraft maintenance professionals choosing roles outside of aviation in 2020. The average age of aircraft maintenance professionals is 51 and the average retirement age is between 62 to 68 years old. With a relatively low number of young people qualifying and entering industry, there is a growing skills gap of competent aircraft maintenance professionals that industry must address urgently to avoid disaster.
It is vital that everyone in the aviation industry work together and do their part to solve this dilemma. Here are five suggestions of things your organisation can do to help.
1. Inspiring the next generation
The team at Marshall Centre have been working with Growth Works, Cambridge United Community Trust, Inspiring the Future and Form the Future, to engage with schools and inspire young people to consider a career in engineering. We have delivered virtual and in person workshops, career days and STEM days to hundreds of young people in schools across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. MROs and airlines that do not currently have a STEM programme or are not actively engaging with schools to inspire the next generation of aircraft maintenance professionals, are missing a huge opportunity to open their talent pool. The whole industry must be committed to inspiring the next generation to pursue a career in aviation if we are going to successfully close the skills gap.
2. Staff Training and Development
There are many reports that demonstrate that employers who invest in developing their people have better attrition rates and tend to attract top talent. All certifying staff who work on aircraft must complete regular continuation training to ensure that they remain current with procedures, human factors, and technical knowledge, all of which Marshall Centre delivers. However, beyond that compulsory training, it is also important to give people the opportunity to level up their leadership and people skills. Richard Brandson’s famous quote is as true today as it was when he said it in 2014, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don't want to”. Therefore, Marshall Centre also offers a range of training courses and qualifications to address gaps in leadership and management skills.
3. Support employee wellbeing
We recently had a discussion with Katy Davies, General Manager at CamdenBoss about wellbeing in the world of manufacturing and she said, “Most people assume that wellbeing is about yoga and fruit bowls, but it’s really as basic as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs; do workers have access to clean, fresh water? Do they feel safe at work? Are their working hours reasonable? Are they given opportunities to develop their skills? Wellbeing is not about being pink and fluffy, it’s just about good leadership.” Often, when people work in environments where there is a high risk of physical danger, leaders focus on keeping their people physically safe, but they must not underestimate the importance of also keeping their people mentally safe. Ensuring that you have as many mental health first aiders as you have physical first aiders is a positive first step.
4. Clear opportunities for career progression
Going back to Maslow, feeling like we have accomplished something and mastered a skill is important for our self-esteem. People like to understand the ways that they can progress in their careers. Ensuring that those progression pathways are clear, will motive people as they will know that they can progress and what they need to do to achieve this. People who know how to progress tend to be more engaged and committed to their job.
5. Changing perceptions about engineering as a career
There are some regulated professions like medical doctors, lawyers, and accountants where people must hold certain qualifications to be able to legally do the job. Remember the hot water that Gillian Mckeith got herself into when she claimed to be a doctor? However, engineering is largely unregulated (unless you are a civil engineer who designs and builds dams) this means that anyone can call themself an engineer. Service companies do this all the time as it is easier to justify charging £50 per hour if they send out an “engineer” to fix your broken boiler than if they said were sending a technician or mechanic. This means that many young people do not know what an engineer really does, how many different types of engineering routes they can follow, and they might have developed a negative perception of the career as a result. Many young people assume engineering is associated with dirty overalls, greasy machines, dusty workshops, male dominated environments, fixing broken things, long or unsociable hours and repetitive work that is potentially dangerous. We must work harder to change this perception by highlighting the creative problem solving, teamwork, technology, skills, and innovation that engineers deserve the highest praise and admiration for.