Now Hiring!

Aug. 5, 2014
The industry responds to aircraft maintenance recruitment needs by working with schools, setting up mentoring programs, career fairs, and educating a younger audience

According to the 2014-2033 Boeing Market Report, a total of 584,000 maintenance technicians will be needed by 2033. “The need for maintenance personnel is greatest in the Asia-Pacific region, which will require 224,000 new technical personnel.” The number for North America is 109,000 and Europe is 102,000.

Pilot & Technician Outlook
New technicians by region 2014-2033
Region    Technicians
Asia Pacific    224,000    38%
Europe    102,000    17%
North America    109,000    19%
Middle East    62,000    11%
Latin America    44,000    8%
CIS        24,000    4%
Africa        19,000    3%
Total        584,000
2014-2033 Boeing Market Report

In its just-released Commercial Aviation Market Outlook 2014-2033, Embraer foresees world demand for 6,250 new jets in the 70- to 130-seat segment over the next 20 years, representing a total market value of US $300 billion. Short-haul operation will drive a worldwide demand for 2,050 turboprops with a capacity of 70 seats or more by 2033; 30 percent will support market growth and 70 percent will replace aging aircraft. By 2033, 18,500 narrow-body aircraft will be delivered worldwide, 50 percent of which will replace aging aircraft. The Middle East will be the fastest-growing region, with average annual growth of 7.1 percent followed by China, 6.8 percent; Latin America, 6.0 percent; Asia Pacific, 5.4 percent; Africa, 5.3 percent; and the Commonwealth of Independent  States (CIS), 5.2 percent over the next two decades. 

In the 2014 reader survey conducted by Aircraft Maintenance Technology, 76 percent of the participants were in the 51 and above age group. So with the projected growth of the industry and the majority of mechanics being older where are future employees going to come from? AMT takes a look at how the industry intends to find, train, and retain these valuable resources.

Market prospects

“We continue to see the average age of prospective employees throughout the aircraft maintenance and engineering industries increase,” says P.J. Anson, CEO, STS Aviation Group. “There also seems to be a gradual rise in the number of individuals leaving the industry — either through retirement or by making a career change — than entering it. Coupled together, these facts make for a much tighter hiring market.  

“Currency requirements for many FAA maintenance positions also make it difficult for technicians who leave the field to come back,” Anson says, “forcing an already tight market to become even tighter. At some point, the aviation workforce pendulum must change direction if it wants to make aircraft maintenance and aviation engineering attractive career choices for youthful generations.  

“For many, compensation and industry outlook are now the most important factors to consider when choosing a career,” Anson says, “and if the MRO industry wants to thrive in the future, it will need to start attracting a younger pool of candidates with those factors in mind.” 

Amelia Robbins, manager, Organizational Resources Program Management Div., AFS-100, says prospects are growing, but slowly, as the aviation industry appears to be the slowest to recover from the recession. “We project the need for additional maintenance Aviation Safety Inspectors will increase at about a 2 percent rate per year for the next 10 years. The growth is due to retirement, other attrition, and growth in the industry.”

AAR Corp. says the current MRO environment is competitive, so there are a variety of career opportunities available for qualified and talented individuals. Openings are available at AAR’s 1MRO Network of six facilities across the country. In fact, AAR is currently hiring AMTs for its MRO in Duluth, MN, where it is adding a fourth line as part of a five-year contract with Air Canada. At its Indianapolis facility, it is currently hiring avionics and sheet metal technicians.

“Growth in the aircraft maintenance community is strong,” says John Linn, vice president services and support, Embraer North America. “We see the aircraft maintenance environment as sided to favor opportunities for the technician.”

“The aviation maintenance industry is once again teeming with opportunities and has gained significant momentum in hiring for all positions in the technical operations areas,” according to Amy Kienast, national director of business relations, MIAT College of Technology, in Canton, MI, and vice president of Aviation Technician Education Council. “In addition to retirements, normal turnover, and expected growth, the industry is also seeing an exciting trend of on shoring jobs back to American soil. Organizations are realizing the significant cost savings by setting up repair operations in-house again or giving work to the U.S.-based MROs.   

“The timing is great for entry-level AMTs completing programs as well as experienced AMTs wanting to advance their careers,” Kienast says. “The airline and aerospace industry is ever-changing and the key is to be flexible and be willing to go where the jobs are. There is something for everyone: direct hire, contract to hire, and temporary project work, and the positions are across the U.S. and overseas.” 

David Jones, corporate aviation education director at Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM), states, “AIM has an excellent record of being able to place students after graduation.  There are jobs in many segments of the aviation industry, and we can generally match a student’s interest with a potential employer.”  

“It is a challenge to find experienced mechanics,” says Becky Meyer, director of human resources for Elliott Aviation, “there appears to be a shortage in the industry and we are all fighting for the same small group. Though it is a great position for the employees to be in, it is a struggle for the employers. We have found hiring veterans and supporting  them to get their A&P certificate has worked very well.”   

Industry challenges

“Employees are chasing the dollar,” STS Aviation Group’s CEO Anson states, “and it’s very common to see multiple short-term periods of employment on a typical candidate’s resume.  

“The days of an employee staying with one company for 10+ years are all but gone,” Anson says. “Thanks to the ever-changing world of online technology, qualified managers, technicians and engineers are now being recruited and sought after much more readily than in the past. This fact causes today’s professional to change careers more frequently. Often times, employees jump ship for as little as an additional $0.50 per hour, which doesn’t seem like much but proves enough motivation to make the switch. 

“Protecting current employees from leaving is almost as much of a challenge as hiring new ones,” Anson claims. “With so many options available to job seekers today, it’s easy to see why the hiring market has become such a challenging and competitive landscape to navigate.”

FAA’s Robbins claims the largest challenges are federal budget restrictions and the ongoing effects of Sequestration.

The biggest challenge according to AAR is the limited availability of experienced individuals to meet the demand of its business needs. In fact, AAR even did a report on the issue “The Mid-Skills Gap in Middle America — Building Today’s Workforce.” Therefore, one of AAR’s key initiatives is to create a new talent pipeline by partnering with local technical schools, universities, and even grammar and high schools to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and awareness of career opportunities within the aerospace industry. 

“Our largest challenge is ensuring our hiring demand is matched with potential candidates whose core values are aligned with ours, says Embraer’s Linn. “Hiring is not the hard part; finding the right ‘fit’ is. The toughest part about hiring employees is making sure they fit the culture and bring the intangibles you are seeking.”  

Kienast says, “Despite the needs, the industry is facing some significant hiring challenges such as other industries recognizing the advanced skill set that AMTs have and they are aggressively recruiting them away from aviation. In many cases, these industries have an advanced pay and benefits structure and more emphasis on advertising, and therefore, can easily entice active and even passive job seekers to jump ship.

“Another challenge the industry is facing,” Kienast says, “is finding the right experience level to fit their organizational needs. Many are playing catch-up from the downturn and are scrambling to fill positions for growth that hit earlier than expected in 2014. Stealing candidates from competitors always seems to be the first option but hurts the industry as a whole. Companies can break the cycle by tapping into the training school pipeline. Many schools have a database of experienced alumni that are job seeking as well as a pool of entry-level graduates. 

“Companies are still very selective in their hiring parameters,” Kienast continues, “and always want a dream candidate with the ideal experience and skills. However, when the dust settles they consistently share the same message. They want someone with a great attitude, willing to learn, and shows up on time.”   

According to AIM’s Jones, “The biggest challenge we find here are the student who will graduate from the AMT program and delays taking the tests necessary for FAA Certification. Without the FAA Mechanic Certificate, the student has limited their employability to a very small number of entry-level positions in related fields. The second factor that may limit a student’s ability to be placed would be their reluctance to change locations. We make every effort to introduce students to the idea that aviation is a mobile community. They should expect to relocate periodically to facilitate their growth in the industry. The person who will only accept employment in their home town has, generally, cut themselves off from the opportunity to take advantage of this exciting and fast growing career.” Jones adds, “Without a doubt, the starting pay offered by most companies is the No. 1 limiting factor in attracting students to this profession.”

Creative solutions

“Creative programs such as internships and outreach are vital to our company’s success,” STS’ Anson states. “Depending on the needs of our customers, STS Aviation Group tailors such programs to target specific requirements.  

“When less experienced, or entry level, technicians can be utilized,” Anson says, “we’ll work with technical schools to target a graduating, or recently graduated, class filled with students looking to get their foot in the door. In addition to our work with technical schools, we also partner with every branch of the U.S. military in an effort to involve ourselves with the out-processing of individuals entering the civilian world.  

“We’ve even lead a variety of grass-roots efforts to get high school students more involved in the aerospace industry,” Anson says, “while also paring them with a training program and a guaranteed job if they choose aviation maintenance as a viable profession.” 

AAR has implemented new programs to attract and develop talent with on-the-job training, internships and partnerships with not only technical schools but local colleges like: GT Baker, Vincennes University Aviation Technology Center, Sowela Technical College, Francis Tuttle Career Tech, and Spartan School of Aeronautics.

AAR’s Community Outreach Program has included work with students at Perspectives Charter Schools in Chicago, Miami Central High School, and Overtown Youth Center in Miami.  Not only does the company speak with the students regarding careers in aviation, but it also provides opportunities for summer internships. Other student activities include tours of its facilities, resume review, and mock interviews to give students real-world experience to prepare for interviews. AAR recently made a three-year commitment to Overtown Youth Center to support the center’s STEM program with a donation of $350,000. 

“This type of investment is mutually beneficial as it helps AAR to create a pipeline of aviation talent to make sure we have the work force we need in the future,” says David Storch, AAR chairman and CEO.

Embraer has a part-time aircraft maintenance technician program. “We have several opportunities offered to top students enrolled in one of the local AMT schools to work part time as they are going through school,” Linn says. “Once they complete the course and receive their Airframe and Powerplant rating we offer them a full-time position.” 

The schools include: Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Tennessee Technology Center, Baker’s School of Aeronautics, and North Central Institute. 

“We offer a great program called the Maintenance Helper Program,” Linn says. “It was set up to really connect us with local schools and get local talent that wants to get into the aviation arena.  We have seen several of our ‘helpers’ transition to full-time employees.”   

The purpose of the program is to develop noncertified employees at Embraer-Nashville to assist certificated maintenance personnel in designated repair and/or overhaul activities performed by the repair station. Maintenance helpers are assigned to the operation and placed accordingly in positions as designated by the project manager they are assigned to. Specific duties are defined in the job description and other duties may be assigned as deemed necessary and/or needed. Linn states, “Our goal is to provide hands-on experience and find candidates who ‘fit’ our culture.

“We certainly prefer candidates seeking a degree (MTSU has a great degree program),” Linn says, “but we also have helpers who are obtaining their A&P license and are merely gaining great real-life experience with us and not necessarily seeking a four-year degree.”

“We do many things,” Elliott Aviation’s director of human resources says. “We do presentations for the graduating classes of A&Ps, we also do presentations at local high schools about a career in aviation, attend job fairs (we find veteran job fairs to be very fruitful), and keep an eye on industry news to focus our recruiting efforts in areas where other companies are struggling.  

“Our main focus is chemistry and potential,” Elliott’s Meyer says. “We want a ‘can-do’ attitude from our candidates, soft skills are very important to us. In addition, we hire with our values of unmatched quality, uncompromising integrity, and unbeatable customer service in mind. Plain and simple, we are looking for the future leaders of Elliott Aviation.” 

According to MIAT College of Technology’s Kienast, “Schools and organizations must work together to be creative and figure out how to integrate entry-level technicians into a career field they have spent many hours training for and are excited to get into before another industry steals them away.  Some graduates of these aviation programs have a lot of potential and they need to find a company that is the right fit and has the organizational structure that will allow them to be mentored by experienced technicians.  

MIAT had a huge success with a recent career fair. Held on May 8, it had more than 120 exhibitors; 22 were direct aviation companies hiring, five were military branches, and 32 were technical companies hiring for AMT skills to their industry. “One airline (ExpressJet) had on-site interviews all day and stayed overnight to continue interviews the next day,” Kienast says. “One company (STS Aerostaff) was making on-the-spot offers. Companies came from as far away as California (General Atomics Aeronautical Systems).”

While AIM, along with most schools, has participated in career fairs, etc., aimed at high school juniors and seniors, “We have discovered that many students have already made their career plans by this point,” Jones says. “The return on investment in these career day activities is often quite low. We are now making efforts to reach students at a much younger age. Here, we can spark an interest in aviation that can be cultivated for the next few years and result in a student who has decided to pursue a career in aviation maintenance long before their senior year of high school.

“Our Las Vegas location has partnered with Walter Bracken Elementary School and developed a program aimed at fifth grade students,” Jones says. “The students are able to visit the aviation maintenance school and participate in a variety of activities related to aviation. This is the time to reach these very impressionable students and we expect that we can pique an interest in an aviation career.  

“Reaching the students this early also gives us the opportunity to invite them back periodically for additional activities that will keep that interest growing,” Jones states. “We have operated some very successful summer camp programs for students where they have the opportunity to participate in activities that are directly related to what they would be learning in an AMT program.”

New graduates

“Companies have varying levels of selectivity when it comes to hiring,” says STS CEO Anson. “The companies who have the most success are those that’ve learned to adapt to a tightening market and utilize the technical resources available today.  

“Many MRO companies have a hard time molding their workplace to the skills and experience of someone who is coming out of the military; someone who has, let’s say, 10 years of experience working on fighter jets,” Anson says. “Other companies, like ours, have learned to embrace those unique and highly qualified skill sets by changing the way we approach individuals with that kind of experience.”  

“The FAA requires its inspectors to have extensive industry experience before becoming inspectors,” Robbins says. “Therefore, we seldom hire newly graduated personnel. The hiring process may seem lengthy, but a career as an Aviation Safety Inspector is fulfilling and rewarding.”

AAR is very receptive to hiring recent graduates. It has partnered with local aviation school – GT Baker. The entry-level technician, someone with mechanical aptitude, is exposed to an aircraft maintenance environment and is partnered with skilled technicians as mentors for on-the-job training. There is a career path in place to encourage ongoing learning and advancement within the company.

AAR strives to attract and retain top talent to accomplish its priorities, which focus on its quality and safety initiatives. “AAR’s goal is to ensure we provide excellent service to exceed our customers’ expectations, so we are continually seeking individuals who are passionate about the industry and possess the skillsets to meet our goals.”

“When interviewing newly graduated technicians we look for candidates that are mechanically inclined along with their education,” says Elliott Aviation’s Meyer. “We feel newly graduated A&P technicians have just received their ‘license to learn.’ We discuss with the candidates that their future is up to them now, they can grow as much as they want. I always tell candidates that the president of Elliott Aviation started his career as a technician. They are in a great spot with their certification!”   

All AIM schools are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and must maintain at least a 70 percent employment rate to maintain their accreditation. “Generally, our placement numbers are about 79 percent for an aggregate of AIM schools,” Jones says.

According to Embraer’s John Linn, “It is important to us that we consider and hire newly graduated technicians. The key is to ensure balance. It is good to mix newly graduated with experienced technicians. 

“Finding the right ‘fit’ is crucial,” Linn says. “A new grad if he has the intangibles can be great for us. We can teach and guide the technical aspect; what we need is the mental side to be aligned … through our core values and mission. The balance part of this whole ‘new grad’ versus experienced tech is like any solid team/organization out there, you need both and both bring value.”

The February 2014 GAO Aviation Workforce report indicated most companies reporting hiring difficulties have increased recruiting efforts — including using social media and attending career fairs. And half of the companies interviewed also developed relationships with local schools as a means to recruit workers. 

As the article shows it’s going to take a combination of efforts to fill the vacancies of retiring workers to keep up with the growth of the industry.

About the Author

Barb Zuehlke | Past Senior Editor | AMT