EBACE Convention News

Filling the Aviation Talent Pool

 - May 21, 2023, 4:11 AM
Aging aviation workers are already leaving the industry, leading to a “demographic cliff,” and companies and educational institutions now need to encourage young people to consider aviation careers.

As the European aviation industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, a crisis in recruitment and retention looms. “The world collapsed, flying hours disappeared, training stopped, and people were laid off," explained Marc Bailey, chief executive of the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA). "Many of those workers have retired or simply decided not to return to the aviation industry. This has placed the industry in a dire situation.”

Unfilled roles cover all areas of the business aviation and airline sectors, from ground handlers to maintenance technicians. While business aviation has successfully steered through its post-Covid bounce with adequate staffing levels, the equilibrium could soon be challenged as airlines make a comeback and lure skilled workers away with lucrative offers.

Bailey reflected on a missed opportunity to embrace the skills shortage earlier in the UK industry. “Evidence of this developing problem was there in 2015,” he noted. The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) observed that a large number of its licensed staff—particularly aircraft maintenance professionals —were more than 50 years old and there was a shortage of young talent coming in to replace them. “A demographic time bomb was marching towards us even then,” he said.

He blames the shallow talent pool partly on vocational courses falling out of favor with students. “The mantra for many years had been ‘get 50 percent of school leavers into university,’ so moving from school into a service and support role in aviation was regarded in a negative light—[it was seen as] a dirty career, so to speak, unlike careers in, say, law or finance,” commented Bailey.

The Covid pandemic provided a “slight breathing space” in the recruitment process for aviation talent across most disciplines, but the industry hadn’t counted on such a huge exodus of personnel once travel restrictions were lifted.

It is now all hands on deck to build an abundant, skilled labor force, encourage industry to do its part, and engage colleges and universities to promote aviation careers to students across many disciplines. Courses in subjects such as law, business, and philosophy, for example, teach students problem-solving and analytical skills valued by the industry, Bailey said.

The industry is making some progress. A handful of colleges and universities in the UK are already engaging with the sector and promoting aviation careers, while the flagship government-funded aviation skills and employment portals—launched in 2021 in response to the post-Covid slump—are building momentum among employers and potential employees.

The Aviation Skills Retention Platform (ASRP) and Talentview Aviation are described by engagement director Richard Smith as “pivotal tools in helping to address ongoing skills gaps in the aviation sector as it continues to recover from the pandemic.” ASRP is designed for companies looking to attract, retain, and develop skilled employees, while Talentview is aimed at the “next generation of employees,” promoting entry-level roles, apprenticeships, training, and graduate schemes. 

The industry is now seeking to expand its engagement with educational institutions. “We need to get things underway and moving this year," said Bailey. "Can’t keep putting it off because the aviation industry is bouncing back to pre-pandemic levels of activity, and we are going to need many people to fill these roles and build a pipeline of talent as we approach that demographic cliff.” 

The BBGA is seeking to gather research to determine how many jobs the aviation community will need over the next decade, what mix of skills will be required, where the training will be performed, and who will deliver it. “We need the industry to provide this data with some urgency, so we understand where the gaps will be and work together—along with government and educational institutions—to fill them,” he added.

Talentview’s Smith shares Bailey's vision. He believes that if the aviation industry is to compete effectively for talent in the “hugely competitive” jobs market, it must promote itself more effectively. “We must create a greater awareness of the sector and the depth of roles it offers over and above those visible, front-facing jobs such as pilots, cabin crew, and security,” Smith said.

There must also be a concerted effort to raise the profile of business aviation as it can often be overlooked as an industry in favor of its larger and better-known commercial stablemate, which is stuffed with large, universally recognized companies from Boeing to British Airways.

EBAA backs up Smith's position. The Brussels-based trade body notes that only 50 of its 700 members are big companies—Dassault, NetJets, Luxaviation, and VistaJet, for example. The rest are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that lack the appeal of big brands—particularly with young talent.

Consequently, the overwhelming number of professionals working in business aviation in Europe today are there “by accident,” according to EBAA senior manager of market and business intelligence Arthur Thomas.

He believes business aviation has to do a better job of selling itself. “For far too long, this sector has kept under the radar, but that now has to stop,” Thomas noted.  “It’s time to step up, be visible, be proud, and demonstrate how business aviation is leading the charge in sustainable technology to secure a long and prosperous future.”

Few universities in Europe mention business aviation in their air transport courses, he noted, recounting his experience studying for a master's degree in air transport management at ENAC, the aviation college in Toulouse, France.

“I went back [to ENAC] as an alumnus after working in business aviation on an internship, and realized I needed to do something about raising the sector’s profile,” said Thomas.

EBAA developed a business aviation module for an ENAC course in 2018 and a second one was introduced earlier this year. The content covers all aspects of the industry, including charter, manufacturing, airport operations, and regulations.

“We built this program for ENAC with the content delivered by industry specialists,” Thomas explained.  He described the take-up as “positive.” Of the 20 students graduating from the course so far, seven are now working in business aviation. EBAA is continuing to raise awareness of business aviation across universities in Europe and supporting other national associations to implement similar modules within their own institutions. 

“We need our members and other players from the industry to step up, too, and realize that we are building a talent base from which they can recruit,” concluded Thomas.