The short answer is yes. Through speaking with hundreds of different types of aviation businesses everyday, it’s not uncommon for us to hear about the shortage of good, Licensed Engineers within the industry.
Mike McDaniel, ExpressJet Airlines’ general manager of aircraft maintenance training, echoes this stance. He adds that “the overall quality of [AMT] applicants is not as good as it was 20-25 years ago” – MRO Network.
There is a huge demand for talented engineers, as aircrafts are expected to continuously improve and be redesigned to increase fuel efficiency, lessen noise pollution and maintain high levels of safety. Take easyJet for example, they’re not just stopping at flying their new ‘super quiet’ eco plane from Manchester Airport. They’re still aiming to reduce carbon emissions per passenger by 10% by the year 2022.
In addition to the ongoing maintenance of modern day planes, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) predicted that in the next 20 years, airlines would have to add 25,000 aircrafts to keep in line with the rising passenger demand for air travel.
In fact, Boeing anticipates the world will need 679,000 new MRO technicians over the next 20 years.
The most worrying part of this is of course, with a lack of engineers, comes a knock on effect to airlines. With the demand for qualified technicians remaining strong in years to come, as with any marketplace, the supply and demand levels will grow further apart before balancing back out.
When we talk about the shortage of engineers in the industry, what is it that we’re really looking for? Whilst some traits might be more valuable than others, every MRO’s ideal worker would have the knowledge, experience, skill, confidence, commitment and motivation to be a successful Licensed Engineer. Someone who might have the experience and skill, might lack the commitment and motivation to better themselves, and as a by product, the company.
The decline of engineers in the industry hasn’t just happened overnight. We currently seem to be in a ‘drought’ that descended from the lack of trained engineers during the late 1970s to mid 1980s. This is reflected in the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)’s annual ‘engineer license holders age profile data’, whereby 54 year olds currently have the highest number of Part 66 licenses held.
The multiple recessions took their toll on the UK, and by doing so, encouraged Margaret Thatcher to introduce National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in 1986.
The initial introduction of the new qualification was slow to become a favoured option by employers, so in 1994 the Government introduced ‘the Modern Apprenticeship’. This meant there was an ‘apprenticeship framework’ laid out, enforcing how apprentices were trained and managed.
Between 1996 and 2001, the number of apprentices more than doubled in the UK, jumping from approximately 75,000 a year to 170,000. The increase then became more gradual until 2007 (205,000), where a growth spurt in popularity brought the total to 280,000 in 2010 according to notgoingtouni.co.uk.
Nowadays, the growth in apprenticeships has seen a range of industries jump on the bandwagon, including health and social care, business and law, and even hairdressing. However, a more stereotypical attitude would still see a ‘traditional’ apprenticeship as something more along the lines of manufacturing or engineering.
How is the industry correcting itself?
Fortunately, modern businesses are becoming more proactive with addressing the problem. There are a number of companies with successful training programs (both apprenticeships and graduate schemes), such as BAE Systems for example. A company who employs approximately 83,100 people worldwide believes “our apprentices are our future. So we invest in theirs.”
That being said, there is still definite room for improvement when it comes to training curriculums. Phil Miholovich, director of maintenance for C&L Aviation Services, says that students are “typically given no more than just a general overall knowledge” of composite structures and advanced avionics troubleshooting, with very little in the way of stand-alone courses specifically focusing on those areas.”
Miholovich went on to say, “This is changing, because some Part 147 schools are adding programs in complex avionics. But it is fairly new, and it adds six to 12 months to the curriculum. Because of the time and money involved, not everyone participates.”
There is still plenty of room to develop from universities as well – an estimated 58.8% of graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree according to the BBC. Yes, some of these graduates will have taken irrelevant degrees to their desired job, or had a change of heart along the way, but it’s fair to assume that a percentage of engineers have left university and haven’t gone into an engineering career. This could be down to either students not being educated enough in how to find work, or they’re not encouraged to pursue an engineering career.
There could also be more room to encourage college students or school leavers to get into engineering. Typically it’s seen as a male dominated field, and part of the shortage could be solved by encouraging more women into the industry at a younger age. According to Carbon60’s 2018 Salary Survey, just 5% of those surveyed were women. If the industry had just as many women as men, the shortage of Licensed Engineers could potentially be fixed.
Some companies have already started to give support to women who are interested in the industry such as Boeing and BAE Systems who are both partnered with The Women’s Engineering Society (WES.) The society partners with relevant employers and educators to work towards “inspiring and supporting girls and women to achieve their potential as engineers.”
Whilst many organisations would suggest the number of skilled engineers has been improving though, it is predicted that in 2017 there was as little as 7.2% of skilled workers making up the entire number of aircraft engineers within the whole aviation industry. This is a worrying 2.5% decrease year on year.*
- Consider taking on a permanent worker instead of a contractor. While the recruitment process may be slightly longer, you could save your business money. Not only in salary, but in cost per hire too.
- Look at potential internal applicants. Unfortunately, no one is born with the skills to be a Licensed Engineer, it is all taught. Whether you have an apprenticeship / graduate scheme or not, could your business have the resource to educate some of your staff with transferable skills?
- Use a niche job board or recruitment agency. Quality should come over quantity when looking for candidates in such a highly skilled role. By using a generic recruitment method, you’re more likely to attract applicants who don’t have the experience or set of skills to be a fit for the role.
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