Airlines must change tactics to attract maintenance workers

Getting the word out

“We’ve already seen some MROs close down” because of the lack of workers, says Jack Arehart, president of Delta Tech Ops. Delta pays its mechanics high wages. “We’re heavily invested in creating scholarships.” The industry needs to do better at communicating opportunities, he said, as demonstrated by the 900+ companies exhibiting at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas conference in Atlanta last week. There were more than 16,000 attendees—but few appeared to be students at any level.

Colin Donohoe, director of heavy maintenance and business partner relations for JetBlue, said his young airline already has had difficulties in attracting workers. This has adversely affected interiors maintenance, an important area for JetBlue’s brand and passenger experience.

“We’re challenged on some of the lower tiers,” he said. The entry level job is interior maintenance and these workers “graduate up” to other maintenance levels. But the millennials have strong interests in new technology, which make the lower level jobs tough to fill.

“We see a lot of tech savvy people coming into the market,” he said.

Creating an environment

KLM found that in the last few years, it has been much more difficult to attract worked for its touch labor jobs.

“We all think we’re super-cool,” KLM said at the conference. “The young guys don’t think so. You have to get them in to see what we do. As soon as you get them in, they become more interested. You have to work very hard to get them. It has become more difficult to keep them.

KLM found that it had to completely remodel an old hangar to create a break environment that is attractive to today’s generation.

Delta TechOps remodeled a large space in one of its MRO hangars to provide quiet break rooms in addition to the large, open areas that serve as places to eat. Workout rooms have been added. Ping Pong tables and other games have been installed to provide a varied and interesting environment for workers.

Creating a pipeline

Robert Ireland, managing director of maintenance and engineering for the trade group Airlines for America, said his organization is concerned about creating a pipeline 10 to 15 years out for workers.

One supplier LNA spoke with outside of the conference prides itself on employee longevity. Some have been with this company more than 25 years. This means it faces a surge of retirements in the not-too-distant future.

This company said schools and colleges have done a good job of downplaying the need and attractiveness of working with hands—a challenge faced by the airlines, too.

A4A is concerned about the educational policies of schools. Airlines are now reaching down to the Middle Schools to interest students in aviation careers.

“Young people are not having the opportunities to learn that they can work with their hands and find some real satisfaction with that,” Ireland said.

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