NBAA is emphasizing the need to develop mentorship programs and foster networking to develop the next generation of aviation professionals as workforce demand looks increasingly difficult to meet. During Bombardier’s 23rd annual Safety Standdown, Brian Koester, NBAA’s senior manager of flight operations and regulations, and Sierra Grimes, NBAA’s senior manager of registration, highlighted the growing needs as the average age of aviation mechanics reaches 51 and the average age of pilots is now 53. Meanwhile, they pointed out, Boeing this year has updated—and increased—its estimates of workforce needs, including for 769,000 new mechanics and 804,000 new pilots by 2038. This projects that the demand for aviation workers is going to continue to grow, Koester said.
There are a number of reasons for workforce shortages, he said, including shortages in military pilots who have traditionally helped feed the commercial aviation system; the 1,500-hour ATP rule for Part 121 serving as a major barrier to entry; organic growth in the aviation sector; and interest in other fields that require less costly training. Training capacity is also a difficulty as flight schools have a problem with retaining CFIs, he said. This is particularly hurting regional airlines, some of which have had to park aircraft because they don’t have the crews.
Koester underscored the diminishing interest among possible pilot recruits, recalling one smaller operator had a pilot opening in 2007 and received 1,000 applications. When it looked to hire again in 2012, the number of applicants had dropped by more than half to 450. By 2017 another search yielded just 47 applicants. “Those numbers really put that into perspective.”
One key way to tackle this issue is diversity, Grimes said. “We’re hearing a lot of organizations… are doing a lot of work on this front, really pushing to engage young girls, people with different backgrounds, to get them exposed to aviation because the lack of diversity that we’ve had in the industry has really led to the diminishing candidate pool,” she said.
On the positive side, said Grimes, Congress has taken notice of the issue and passed legislation to help address the problem. Of note, H.R.4673, Promoting Women in the Aviation Workforce Act, includes the creation of a women in aviation advisory board under the FAA, comprising women with executive positions within the industry to explore attracting women to aviation. It also includes a jobs task force designed more for outreach to girls in high school. This is important because the focus has been on college students, who already have an interest in an aviation career. But studies show that there is a need to introduce aviation to younger students, Grimes said.
Also, they are working to line up grants to help with funding issues.
“We all know the shortage is here and we’re trying to work together as an industry to draw in the next generation,” Grimes said, but on the individual level, people and companies can also support the future generation through mentorship and networking, she added. Mentorship is a key way that helps recruit, retain, and develop the next generation, she added. “It’s about building those relationships and being able to pass on that skill set.”
Looking at the many people approaching retirement, mentoring will enable that knowledge to continue through the next generation. Further, studies have shown students who have mentors are more likely to finish their studies and more likely to continue into that career, Koester said.
Studies further indicate that younger workers tend to switch jobs every three years. Part of what they are looking for is career growth and advancement, and mentorship can help guide that, he said. Another benefit is mentorship improves professionalism, which is critical to aviation safety, he added.
A Harvard study showed that far more people older than 40 have experienced and benefited from mentorship than those younger than 40, Grimes said. “They didn’t see it as beneficial. They hadn’t been exposed to it.”
The fear is the industry will lose a skill set without mentorship programs as the older generation retires, she said.
There are several approaches to mentorship, from an informal relationship to formal established programs that involve a set timeline, goals, a mentor/mentee agreement, and follow up.
Also, Grimes and Koester, who are both involved in NBAA’s Young Professionals in Business Aviation (YoPro) initiatives, also stressed the importance of facilitating network opportunities to foster the next generation. Networking, they added, helps build knowledge by enabling the sharing of experience, and could lead to new opportunities.