Safety & Training
Editorial: Where Are the Solutions?
May 27, 2008 By Drew McCarthy
Think Globally, Act Locally
The most important issue that the Canadian helicopter industry will face this season is a scarcity of skilled employees. The problem’s like the weather, everybody talks about it but nobody ever seems to be able to do anything.
In reality, few people actually know what to do. In this issue of HELICOPTERS magazine, regular contributor James Careless talks to members of the helicopter community in search of some workable solutions to the pilot shortage. There are some good ideas out there, as James reports in his story, Industry Catch-22 – Operators Search for Solutions, starting on page 18. Still the pilot problem has no easy solution.
And, if only it were just a pilot shortage. Last year there were numerous reports of Canadian operators who had to park their helicopters because of the shortage of AMEs. This is another problem that will likely get worse before it gets better.
At the HAC manufacturing and maintenance committee meeting held back in April, committee members discussed causes and brainstormed potential solutions. The situation is critical. It was predicted, for example, that a company like CHC will require some 400 new AMEs over the next five years.
Among the many reasons for the increasing shortfall we can count offshore companies pulling AMEs out of the country and local non-aviation competition, which has started to offer higher wages for jobs requiring less skill.
Enrolments at most schools offering aircraft maintenance are down, leaving many recruiting departments scratching their heads. But to those working diligently to turn the situation around, failure is not an option.
There are many who are looking for solutions. Jack Baryluk is a chief instructor in aerospace and aviation at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Richmond, B.C. He like many others in the teaching field believes that work can be done at the helicopter operator level in the community. Baryluk suggests that operators, particularly those in smaller communities across the country, can help market aircraft maintenance careers by connecting with the high schools in their area.
Baryluk encourages operators to call up local shop teachers and invite them and their students to visit their maintenance hangars, either as part of a field trip or even in the evenings when much of the work is being done.
Andy Cole, who teaches aircraft maintenance at Northern Lights College (NLC) in Dawson Creek, B.C., is of the same mind. While NLC is one of the few colleges that currently enjoys full enrolment, Cole is passionate about getting the message out at the grassroots level.
For those like Cole and Baryluk, it’s not about promoting one school over another. They see the challenge as one that involves everyone in the industry.
As one example, NLC offers AME-type training on certain helicopter airframes and engines and teaches engineers from all over Canada and the world. Cole told me that in every one of these courses he presents what he calls his “inspirational message” to those going back to their own companies. Cole asks each and every one of them to carry the message back to the high schools and to accept the challenge that this is an industry-wide problem that requires an industry-wide solution.
Cole has surveyed all of his students in the aerospace program and has found that some 95 per cent of them chose the field because of an industry referral, either a friend, relative or neighbour. That means that individuals can play a very positive role. He has faith in this approach because his own history reflects that reality. He says that he was all set to pursue a career in auto mechanics when a pilot friend suggested aviation. His friend invited him out to a local airport and after that visit, Cole was hooked on aircraft maintenance.
Both Cole and Baryluk say that one of the biggest challenges for recruiters and potential employers is to get their heads around what it means to be part of generation Y. With lots of options available to them, salary and lifestyle are key factors. Reaching them also means searching for them where they are, on the Internet. Baryluk encourages potential employers to make sure they are linking job opportunities on their websites to local schools and online employment sites.
The strategies needed to keep Canada’s helicopters in the air must be broad and ongoing. The message coming out of the training schools is that neither they nor government can solve this problem on their own. They need full industry commitment and involvement. As the old saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.