A new report finds that technical schools have ample capacity to help fill a widening gap between the demand for qualified maintenance employees and the number of new employees joining the industry. Tapping into female markets and guiding more newly trained candidates to aviation jobs offer two strategies for boosting the mechanic population.
The report, based on a survey of aviation maintenance technician schools (AMTS) and data collected by ATEC, found that new entrants make up 2% of the AMT population annually, while 30% of the workforce is at or near retirement age. In the U.S., FAA-certified AMTS produce about 60% of new mechanics, with the military and on-the-job training accounting for the rest. As of mid-November, the aggregate enrollment at all AMTs was about 17,800 students, but their capacity is nearly 34,300.
“The need for new mechanics is steadily rising,” said Crystal Maguire, ATEC executive director. “Increasing enrollment should be a major focus of both the schools and the companies that rely on new mechanics to help support their operations.”
One low-hanging fruit: attracting more female candidates. The FAA airman database includes 286,000 certificated mechanics. Females make up 2.3% of the certificate mechanic workforce, up from 1.7% in 2001.
While filling the pipeline is important, results from an ATEC survey conducted as part of its research reiterates the need for aviation to retain the graduates AMTS schools produce. AMTS respondents estimate that 20% of graduates pursue careers outside of aviation, and only 60% elect to take the FAA test for mechanic certification.
AMTS and industry recognize these challenges, and are better defining career paths for students through innovative partnerships. When asked about formal cooperative agreements with employers, 87% of AMTS respondents said they had relationships with industry companies, with repair station partnerships leading the way.
“Connections between schools and employers in their regions are among the most promising tactics for developing sustainable aviation maintenance workforce-development pipelines, and ATEC continues to support them in a number of ways,” said ATEC President and Spartan College of Aeronautics & Technology Vice President of Business Development and Aviation Advisor Ryan Goertzen. “These collaborative partnerships are win-win: they help employers staff key positions, and serve as powerful recruitment tools for schools looking to boost enrollment.”
ATEC leads several grassroots efforts that connect aspiring technicians with employers. It has launched a series of networking events at its annual conference, and is supporting the Talent Solution Coalition, which connects schools and employers in specific workforce-development programs.
Other notable findings provided in the report:
The average age of an FAA mechanic is 51, with 27% of the mechanic population age 64 and above.
AMTS are expanding programs in response to specific industry needs; of respondents, 53% reported having technical programs outside the A&P. The fastest-growing non-A&P programs over the last two years were avionics and unmanned aircraft systems.
Forty one percent of all individuals with an FAA mechanic certificate are employed by repair stations (50%), air carriers (45%), general aviation (4%) and AMTS (1%).
Nearly 40% of all A&P students are enrolled at the 10 largest institutions. The AMTS community is therefore composed mostly of smaller institutions, with half of AMTS reporting fewer than 50 enrolled students.