Work Force Skill Development

Third-party credentials help bridge predicted hiring gap


You’ve read the articles and heard the chatter; the aviation industry will soon find it very challenging to hire enough qualified technicians. Aviation manufacturers and MRO facilities are both concerned about future hiring shortages. Some estimate as many as 650,000 new aviation technicians will be needed by 2030.

A recent Boeing press release states that “airlines will need an average of 23,000 new commercial jet pilots and 32,500 new technicians per year to maintain and fly an expanded world fleet expected to grow to nearly 40,000 airplanes over the next 20 years, as well as replace the coming wave of retirements.” Without enough trained talent, U.S. companies will have to turn away work.

Technician shortage

This problem, which is not unique to aviation or aerospace, has captured the attention of leaders at the highest levels of industry and government. In June, President Obama spoke on this very topic at Northern Virginia Technical College. His message was clear: the health of the U.S. economy requires the training of new workers for new technical jobs.

In the past, prior to entering technical college, students typically had a fair amount of mechanical experience, thanks either to high school tech classes or work done around the farm, home, or garage. This is not often the case today; yet those fundamental skills are all still needed, skills like reading measuring instruments, drilling accurate holes, and bolting with proper torque. Additionally, with new materials and processes, those skill sets need to be revisited, revised, and enhanced.

Another hurdle is the perception today’s potential students and their parents have of technical education: that a technical career is not a healthy choice. But today’s technicians are not knuckle-busting, wrench benders with few career options. In fact, today, one of the problems facing the aviation industry is that graduates of today’s aviation programs are swept up by other industries.

The United States is the home of innovation and in no industry is that more true than aviation. The technology in today’s aircraft requires technicians with a high level of talent and a broad base of skills not imagined before. Aircraft like Boeing’s new 787 have a tablet computer-based interface and a composite structure more advanced than most military aircraft.

New mechanics must not only be much more familiar with avionics and computer systems, but they will also need specialized composites training. They must be able to identify the correct composite repair, as making the wrong repair will render a piece irreparable. Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services, recently said: “To meet the demand for capable, well-trained people, Boeing and the aviation industry need to move with the speed of technology to provide the tools, training, and work environment that tech-savvy pilots and technicians will expect from us.”

The emerging work force, as well as the incumbent work force, needs high quality, industry-supported training in these fundamental skills. Partnerships between industry and educational institutions will assure that the training provided meets the needs of industry. These industry-led initiatives are a key element to successful training.

An initiative mentioned during the President’s visit to Northern Virginia Technical College is “Skills for America’s Future.” This program brings government, the private sector, labor, and community colleges together to produce 5 million community college degrees and certificates by 2020. The organization’s advisory board is composed of CEOs of companies such as Motorola Solutions, Snap-on Incorporated, and Discovery Communications.

Product certification

Snap-on Inc. has been involved in technical education for more than 50 years. Over the past five years, our efforts have increased dramatically. In 2006 Snap-on began offering curriculum-based product certifications to technical college students through partnerships with educational institutions. The initial product certifications were for automobile diagnostic scanners with the goal of producing technicians capable of using these tools to their full potential.

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