Opinion: Addressing the skills gap in the aviation industry

(Photo: Artemis Aerospace)

The pandemic and the fallout associated with the many redundancies and furloughs have left the airline industry struggling to find skilled and qualified staff to support the ever-increasing demand for flights. Here, Jim Scott from UK-based aircraft components supplier Artemis Aerospaceoffers his views on how the industry can build momentum in highlighting jobs in the sector and address the growing gap in relevant skills.

Earlier this year, there was a lot of outrage when airlines had to cancel several flights due to staff shortages. While the shortages were mostly due to staff sickness, much of the blame was put at the feet of the airlines, who were accused of creating busy flight schedules they knew they couldn’t meet.

However, the problem of understaffing is much deeper than a disease or even an epidemic. It is true that the pandemic has been a catalyst for thousands of employees who have left the industry, and thus, many have made a conscious decision to never return, citing job insecurity as a prominent reason for this decision. In fact, the aviation industry has seen a downturn in skilled workers in all job roles for many years.

Research by GOOSE Recruitment, in partnership with FlightGlobal, revealed that in 2019, strong global demand for aviation services meant that many regions, including China, South America and North America, were acutely skilled in providing high-quality flights. Inexperienced crew, this has been the case for nearly two decades. It also revealed that despite the impact of the pandemic, 43% of pilots surveyed believe there will not be enough experienced pilots to meet demand within five years.

The problem is not limited to pilots or cabin crew. Research conducted by the Oliver Wyman MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) Survey in 2017 showed that there is an urgent shortage of skilled technicians in the aviation industry, and that demand far outstrips the number of workers needed to keep up with requirements.

At the time, the Oliver Wyman MRO survey also indicated that 42% of industry leaders identified a maintenance technician labor shortage as the most pressing challenge in the aerospace sector and that global demand is set to exceed supply by 2027. They identified two main reasons for this: A lack of interest from young talent groups in aviation and an aging workforce created an unfilled gap.

It is clear that more collaboration is needed across the entire industry to reach young people in more targeted, creative and engaging ways that will inspire them to seek a career in aviation. Disadvantaged groups and minorities are also very valuable sources of talent.

Community outreach programmes, visiting and speaking at schools, enrollment incentives, open houses and workshops are all ways in which the aviation sector can improve its ability and opportunity to attract new talent.

There are many employment options for young beginners in the industry and communication with them is essential. While many young people may traditionally consider becoming a pilot or taking on a role as flight crew, there are other, less prominent opportunities, such as technician and air traffic controller jobs, that need to be highlighted to young people more intensely.

One of the ways this is being achieved in the UK is by increasing the employment of apprentices and graduates in the UK workforce. Airbus, along with other major companies including Atkins, MBDA and Babcock, have committed to QinetiQ’s ‘The 5% Club’, which pledges to have 5% of its total UK employees in a formal entry-level program and / or sponsored students and / or graduated.

In 2021, two new aviation vocational training standards were approved: the aviation customer service worker and the ground handler. These provide direct entry into the sector and vital operational knowledge to aid future advancements.

In the United States, Tulsa Tech, which offers a program of aviation-related workforce training and development courses and classes, has used a strategy of community outreach programs to reach students in elementary and secondary schools with the goal of sparking their interest at an early age. In addition to school visits, Tulsa Tech regularly holds open houses in its facilities, and hosts various meetings and events to raise awareness of the courses it offers to aspiring students.

Leveraging the power of social media has been crucial to reaching women, minority groups, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The working group, Women in Aviation International, harnesses social media to reach young girls while highlighting the wide range of opportunities on offer and encouraging them to seek roles without restrictions.

One example is Kenya’s Irene Koki Mutongi, Africa’s first female Boeing 787 Dreamliner, who is using her personal Twitter account to tell the world about women in the industry.

Regardless of anyone and anywhere in the world, attracting new talent takes time and effort and consistent communication across all levels is key. Only by being its best advocate can the aviation sector reap the rewards of attracting the next generation of workers and continue to enjoy successful global growth in a highly rewarding and exciting industry.

Jim began working in the airline industry in 1989. Ten years later, with a desire to promote great customer service and exceed expectations, Jim launched Artemis Aerospace.
Jim oversees the management of all client accounts, and manages the strategic and commercial development of Artemis.

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