Aviation Industry Growth Stymied by the Shortage of Aircraft Technicians

In 1968, Lee Kopeke saw that there was a shortage of trained and licensed Aircraft Technicians for local aviation companies in Michigan, so he started a school at Willow Run Airport to train technicians for the growing industry.  For almost 50 years MIAT College of Technology has been providing technicians to companies across the U.S.

During this same time, the industry was so busy growing, catering to customers’ needs, and making money, participants did not realize that the dynamics were quickly changing and external influences would begin to drain the industry of much needed talent.  Non-aviation industries started stealing these highly trained technicians to work in their own industry.  It didn’t take long for these maintenance-related industries to recognize the transferability of skills from these highly trained technicians.

To add fuel to the fire, high schools started pushing four year degrees, military personnel were staying active duty longer, television and media started influencing people to work in the entertainment industry, kids were no longer growing up on farms, and the backyard mechanic started to become a thing of the past. All these things together have created a perfect storm for the current Aircraft Technician shortage.

For several years there had been talk that there would be an Aircraft Technician shortage but it took until late 2016 for the media to pick up on it.  Up to that point companies were filling their positions by stealing from each other and hiring was in cycles so they were just keeping up.   Those days are gone and companies are now in panic mode because there are not enough current Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) students graduating out of schools to fill current or future positions.  Also, current A&P employees are expected to start retiring at alarming rates.

Because of this talent shortage, aviation and aerospace companies are all playing catch-up and putting together workforce planning teams to brainstorm every possible way to find more people to hire and to create hiring pipelines.  Major industry players are so scared they are visiting the A&P schools across the U.S. to build relationships with students and staff.   Companies are creating unique recruiting methods, visiting schools more often to build rapport with future graduates, and spending thousands of dollars on targeted marketing.

Additionally, companies are realizing that A&P schools cannot do this alone and they are offering programs and support to help get the word out about A&P technician careers.  Some companies are so frightened by the lack of qualified technicians that they are even creating marketing campaigns to take into the elementary school level to entice future aviators.

To be competitive, companies have had to increase pay scales several times in the last 12 months, add more benefits, spend more money on recruiting, hire recruiters that specifically work with A&P schools, create a social media presence, and bring back perks such as tuition assistance and relocation packages.   Many companies are also creating internships, apprenticeships, scholarships, and offering guaranteed interviews.

How long will this Aircraft Technician shortage last?  Some believe it will follow a typical seven-year cycle while others do not expect to see it stop for many years due to all the upcoming retirements and the continued expected growth of the aviation industry.

It is time to step out of our comfort zone and explore ideas on how to share this exciting and rewarding career with more youth; it needs to be on their radar at an earlier age.  There are not many careers for which you can complete training and obtain a federal certification in less than two years and have hundreds of career opportunities to choose from nationwide.

Amy Kienast is the Director Career Services at MIAT College of Technology and is a former hiring manager in the airline industry.  She also stays active in the aviation community as a Board Member of ATEC (Aviation Technician Education Council), presents nationally on aviation careers, and volunteers at numerous aviation events.  She can be reached at akienast@miat.edu.