Aug. 14, 2007
The short circuit to supply and demand

Arguably, one of the biggest challenges that this industry has faced over the last decade — short of its financial challenges — is attracting young people into the aviation maintenance field. The fear is that we will be looking at a serious shortfall of expertise in the near future as a result of fewer talented maintenance technicians being available.

The reality is that there are many more lucrative careers today for young people to pursue. Careers in computer programming, Internet development, computer technical support, etc., all promise higher starting wages and higher opportunity for high-end wages.

Additionally, there are fewer young people actually exposed to aircraft at a young age these days. Fences at airports and increased security designed to thwart terrorism do nothing to attract the curious or promote the “romance” of aviation.

Further, the hundreds and thousands of veterans looking for education under the GI bill are no longer a part of today’s workforce equation.

So how can the shortage be resolved? The answer is certainly not simple. If it was, it would have been resolved long ago.

Part of the equation could be an elevation of wages. Simple supply and demand would say that as the shortage becomes more severe, the wages companies are willing to pay would increase. As basic as this seems, the reality is that wages are not going up. So what’s the problem?

Outsourcing is one factor that plays into our shortage problem. Outsourcing short circuits the laws of supply and demand by giving employers an alternative to replacing their workforce. This is a positive thing for employers, but obviously negative for the A&P mechanic! But outsourcing may be only a temporary trend as security and safety may eventually factor into the airlines taking maintenance back in-house. This has gone back and forth over the years.

Another more important factor, may be the lack of exposure of hands-on technical skills to young people. Today’s virtual, Internet-based society just doesn’t encourage the hands-on learning experience to which previous generations were exposed.

Still, there is no question that this industry needs a good supply of highly skilled, talented, and educated professionals to maintain our increasingly technologically complex fleet of aircraft.

So what’s the future for the aircraft maintenance?

My thoughts go back again to the basic laws of supply and demand. We’re going to need people that are trained and know what they are doing. It’s just a matter of time before the industry will be willing to pay the price for what it takes to get the talented workforce it will need. And those increased wages will again attract some great young folks.

Additionally, as other markets become flooded with too much competition for jobs, wages will decrease in these other areas, making it even more attractive to look toward aircraft maintenance as a career.

The equation is: More Aircraft + Increased Technology + More Travel = a Strong Need for Aircraft Maintenance Professionals.

Thoughts? We’d like to hear what you think.

Greg Napert
Proud to be an A&P