Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
A Wrench in the Works

Every time this magazine or our sister publication Wings presents an article on a skills shortage in aviation, I am flooded with letters and e-mails from frustrated graduates and seasoned professionals who can’t find a job.


July 12, 2007
By David Carr

Topics

Every time this magazine or our sister publication Wings presents an
article on a skills shortage in aviation, I am flooded with letters and
e-mails from frustrated graduates and seasoned professionals who can’t
find a job.

It
is to be expected. The crunch is not as severe in the helicopter
industry as was the case five years ago when the airline industry was
poaching staff with offers of greater compensation and more predictable
working hours. Also, the skills shortage is not yet universal, meaning
that a drought in one discipline is offset by a glut in another. But
there is little doubt that those gluts are being mopped up, especially
in aircraft maintenance.

While the industry is finally on a
growth trajectory, the availability of AMEs has not kept pace. As Rob
Pritchard of Avialta Helicopter Maintenance Ltd. told Ryan Kennedy in
this year’s MRO special report, the average age of AMEs means that
there is going to be an exodus over the next 10 years.

It is not
just an issue of filling the gaps. As experienced AMEs leave, there are
fewer individuals to take their place. “You are about to see knowledge
walk out the door that you can’t replace,” said Dr. Linda Duxbury, a
leading authority on generational differences in the workplace.

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Beyond
the experience issue, Dr. Duxbury pointed to attitude as another
workplace phenomenon certain to contribute to a future silent skills
shortage. Unlike veterans and baby boomers, the next generation of
skilled workers is likely to put lifestyle at least equal with
compensation in selecting an employer. Overtime? Forget it, especially
if the newer hire has already made plans.

Compounding the
problem is that competition for qualified recruits will become fiercer
with Canadian operators and MROs competing not only against each other
for skills, but with other industries and, in some cases, other
countries.

There are options to reverse the trend. The industry
may want to consider some form of apprentice program offering
incentives that will encourage retired AMEs to pass their skills on to
the next generation. Some MROs have been reluctant to get involved with
in-house training programs in the past because the apprentice has been
a drag on already thin operating margins. They may have no choice in
the future, discovering as competitors already have, that a good
apprenticeship program delivers both skills and loyalty.

In the
final analysis, however, it is up to the industry to recreate the ‘wow’
factor. As Steve Dick, executive director and CEO of the Canadian
Aviation Maintenance Council (CAMC) has pointed out in the past,
aviation has been caught “flatfooted” in replenishing its own skills
pool. This is especially so in the north where helicopters are a
natural part of growing up.

The skills shortage will correct
itself, if for no other reason than enlightened selfinterest. If the
machine doesn’t get fixed, it can’t fly. Still, we should be
considering strategies to immediately adjust any future imbalance.

 


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