New report highlights aviation maintenance employment gap and how education can help meet the growing demand

by Ryan Smith on April 9, 2019 · 1:30 pm

SJVC-aviation-maintenance-technology-student-working-on-airplaneLike most industries, aviation maintenance faces it fair share of challenges, but a surplus of skilled and formally educated technicians is not one of them.

A recent report using data from the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) found that aviation mechanics continue to retire faster than they are being replaced. The 2018 ATEC Pipeline Report projects that the mechanic population will decrease roughly 5 percent in the next 15 years¹.

As the industry aims to ensure it has enough technicians to keep aircraft flying in the coming years, it emphasizes an obvious solution: Increase enrollment in Aviation Maintenance Technology (AMT) programs.

“While the data does suggest that there has been progress made in several key areas, the industry must do more to both replace retiring workers and accommodate the rising demand,” said Lionel Smith, Campus President at the San Joaquin Valley College (SJVC) Fresno-Aviation Campus. “With such a high demand in jobs, we are proud to be able to provide the skills and formal education necessary to help fill the aviation maintenance technician employment gap,” Lionel added.

The report found that new entrants make up two percent of the population annually, while 30 percent of the workforce is currently at or near retirement age¹. These figures are similar to findings in the 2017 ATEC Pipeline Report², indicating a trend within the industry and a growing concern to fill a much needed employment gap.

In addition, the report found that a high rate of graduates go on to use their skills in non-aviation jobs. While this may add more value to possessing a formal education in aviation maintenance, it does not address the growing employment gap and demand for additional labor.

This is where technical schools, as well as employers, have the capacity to help close this gap. Right now, there is significant opportunity for industry employers to help define career paths and attract more students into the pipeline.

Consider 28-year-old graduate Louis McArthur as an example. Throughout SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program, he saw a steady stream of potential employers visit the campus, scouting future employees.

“Companies came down to interview us and tell us what they were looking for,” says Louis, “and we knew that we fit the bill. They were actively recruiting at SJVC and it gave me a lot of confidence. I thought, ‘this is awesome; I’m actually going to be able to provide for my family.’”

Louis was always passionate about working in the space industry and thought that working on aircraft was the closest he could ever get to it as a technician. Consequently, the Aviation Maintenance Technology graduate signed on with The Spaceship Company almost immediately after completing the program.

“I had no real experience with planes before coming to this school,” said Louis. “So, the fact that I got hired on, this (AMT program) is pretty much the reason I got the job,” added Louis.

Louis was recently promoted to The Spaceship Company’s sister company, Virgin Galactic. A spaceflight company within the Virgin Group, Virgin Galactic develops commercial spacecraft and aims to provide suborbital spaceflights for science missions. However, in order to qualify for the promotion he needed to have previous employment at The Spaceship Company. This serves as an example of how one can leverage their education outside of aviation to make dreams become a reality.

The aviation maintenance industry will continue to face both internal and external challenges, including the perceived attraction of other industries over aviation. Effective programs that connect employers and schools, and provide exposure for the aviation maintenance field as a stable, technologically advanced career, is a good step towards addressing the growing aviation maintenance technician gap.

SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program prepares students with the skills and technical knowledge they need to perform maintenance on aircraft airframe (body) and powerplant (engine). In addition to classroom instruction, hands-on training in the hangar includes maintenance, servicing, troubleshooting, and repair of airframe and powerplant systems and components. The campus is located on the Fresno Yosemite International Airport and has been providing the aviation industry with quality graduates for more than 20 years.

¹ https://www.atec-amt.org/uploads/1/0/7/5/10756256/atec-pipelinereport-20181217.pdf

² https://www.atec-amt.org/uploads/1/0/7/5/10756256/atec_report-pipeline_011018_v5p.pdf

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