How to Recruit and Retain New Employees in the MRO World

April 20, 2017

“Your workforce is your most valuable asset. The knowledge and skills they have represent the fuel that drives the engine of business – and you can leverage that knowledge." – Harvey McKay

The aviation industry like many other industries, and maybe even more than most, is changing at a rate that is hard to fathom, let alone trying to stay ahead of the change. We find this is especially true when it comes to dealing with people and understanding the differing needs of the generations in the workplace. There is a generation of experienced maintenance technician professionals that is aging out of the workforce over the next few years.

The aircraft maintenance job opportunities are expected to see a 6 percent growth in the next decade according to U.S. statistics. This means solid opportunities for graduating mechanics specializing in avionics, sheet metal, and composites. But it will be an increasing challenge for organizations and leadership to fill these positions with employees that have all the characteristics that are essential for a strong team and culture: dependability, leadership qualities, and core skills (human interaction, communication, and team players).

There is a new generation already in the workforce with a whole different set of expectations and guiding motivations. Leaders, supervisors, and managers are feeling the pinch of trying to understand, manage, and motivate this new generation of workers while trying to meet increasing demands placed on them by the marketplace to get things done faster, cheaper, and better than ever before.

One of the challenges we are hearing from leadership and hiring managers is that the typical new job applicants are not as technically skilled as they were even 10 years ago. A&P school training is limited, and modern technology changes faster than it can be taught in the schools. It is more difficult to find professionals with the exact technical abilities for the job description. Even job descriptions for maintenance technicians are not what they were in the past. Most organizations, whether they are a small maintenance shop or a large OEM or MRO, are tasked with doing more, faster, and with less resources than ever before. So, individuals and departments have a wider scope of job responsibilities within their typical work environment.

How do we hire, motivate, and retain our teams in this new environment?

What should be the important questions to ask and things to look for to build and maintain a culture of service to each other and to our customers that will be competitive, safe, and a place that we can be proud of? The assumption we will make is that you already have an engaged and motivated team. This is an important pre-requisite to hiring and maintaining the best young technical professionals. Open communication, along with engaged and empowered team members that motivate and inspire each other is a necessary component to being able to hire new technical professionals … and be able to keep them.

The culture of your organization is something that new hires will need to assimilate into. How do you find people that are a good fit for your culture? There are some professional recruiting companies in the aviation industry (like API and JPI) that do a great job screening aviation professionals, so that is a good place to start.

Hiring people for personality is more relevant than hiring for experience. If the person has the right attitude, there are ways to get them up to speed on the technical requirements of the job. If the person does not have the right attitude, no amount of training, coaching, or mentoring is going to make the person fit in and work out. There are many personality tests that are useful when hiring new team members. There are also questions and techniques that can be used to try to discover the attitude/personality of a person interviewing for the job at hand. Some people are very well skilled at interviewing. They can make themselves look very good in the initial interviewing process - beware!

Ask the Interviewee Situational Questions

Ask the interviewee situational questions, where he/she has to describe circumstances that they dealt with to resolve a situation. This will give some insight into how they might react in stressful situations or situations that the job might require. Here are a few examples:

1. “Give me an example of when you took action when those around you were waiting for someone to tell them what to do.”

2. “Describe a situation when you intervened to help recover a customer service issue.”

3. “Tell me about a time when a customer was not happy with something you did and you turned the situation around.”

These types of behavioral questions will tell you more about the person and how they would handle a situation.

Try a Simulation or Role-play

One tool that we recommend using when trying to ascertain the type of person who is applying to serve in your company is simulation, or role-play. Simulators have long been used in aviation to train professionals on technical skills. Simulation is also a useful tool for working through people or company culture issues. Give a potential new hire a couple scenarios that have been past difficult situations in your work environment. Ask how they would deal with them. Here are a couple examples:

1. You have recently been promoted to Manager of Maintenance Services. Jerry, a good friend of yours, had also applied for the job. Jerry is well liked among his coworkers, and he is also very customer oriented. Now, you are Jerry’s manager. Over the last month, Jerry has been coming to work late, and you have a feeling he has been creating a negative mood among others on your team. Jerry is a valuable team member, and he has a lot of influence with other coworkers. What would you do?

2. A customer/owner scheduled a flight prior to the aircraft going into inspection. There was an unexpected repair. The part was not in stock and needed to be ordered. This delayed the release from maintenance, and the aircraft was not available for the flight. The owner demanded to go as scheduled and advised maintenance to finish the repair after the flight. What would you do?

By giving the potential new hire some real-life scenarios, it gives you a glimpse into what his/her thought process and moral compass are when making decisions. Does it fit with your organizational culture? Take your time in deciding even when under pressure to hire quickly. The people that you bring onto your team are vital to the continuation of the organization and the well-being of the team. If you have a good thing going on - you need to guard it with a vengeance. Training young maintenance technicians to troubleshoot on a specific type of equipment will be easier when you have the type of attitude/personality that fits your organization’s culture.

This topic was lightly tapped into today. There are many guidelines and techniques for how to effectively hire the new generation. ServiceElements works with large and small organizations to develop and fine-tune their organizational cultures. Please feel free to contact us if you need additional assistance with understanding the behavioral piece of building/maintaining your service culture.

Christine Hill, executive vice president and co-founder of ServiceElements, has been in teaching, facilitating, and coaching for 30+ years. She has a Master's in psychology/education from Northern Arizona University and is passionate about helping organizations, teams, and individuals with development of human interaction skills.

About the Author

Christine Hill

Christine Hill, executive vice president and co-founder of ServiceElements, has been in teaching, facilitating, and coaching for 30+ years. She has a Master’s in psychology/education from Northern Arizona University and is passionate about helping organizations, teams, and individuals with development of human interaction skills.