Bridging the Talent Gap in the Aviation Industry

Bridging the Talent Gap in the Aviation Industry

As the Director of Operations at AAR Windsor, Brenda Baker leads manufacturing, operations, process optimization, safety, and cross-functional teams to achieve goals and ensure success. She is known as an innovative thinker with strong employee management, compliance, and product design acumen.

What are some of the latest trends you have seen in the Aviation industry? 

Drone technology for mapping aircraft skin dents is appealing. We have seen demonstrations and are eagerly awaiting use of this technology in our maintenance environment.

What are the challenges that the Aviation industry is facing, and what initiative have you taken to overcome that?  

Currently, a significant challenge for the aviation sector is the talent shortage. We have been collaborating with CCAA (Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace) for the past three years on a project called industry led training program (ILTP). We've also been discussing with the government recognizing AME’s as a skilled trade in Canada, and we believe we are making headway, including recently obtaining financing from the Canadian government to assist with this initiative. ILTP calls for support from the industry as a whole for in-house training for apprentices drawn from local talent. There are a few avenues to obtain an AME Maintenance or Structures license in Canada, either brick and mortar college programs or this new ILTP.  The mechanic license path has one other option besides the ones mentioned above, which is the ICS program.  With ILTP, students have the opportunity to enter the industry directly from high school. 

Although the insight I’m sharing pertains to AAR’s activities in Canada, I'd like to emphasize that AAR is also engaged in workforce development in the U.S., where there are similar school programs. AAR is a strong supporter of recruiting local talent and also helping talent find opportunities across our many locations, including new graduates.

Could you explain a bit more about your co-program and how it helps in developing talent?

At AAR Winsor, our closest accredited school for aerospace or aircraft mechanics is two hours away, making it slightly more challenging for us to find local talent. In addition, several colleges are not operating at full capacity, which reduces the available talent pool. To assist with aircraft maintenance, the industry will need perhaps 60,000 additional personnel by the year 2028.

"We are considering alternative wage structures and other strategies for retaining existing talent and attracting new talent."

To help meet this demand, we began ILTP for high school students to participate in a two-year aerospace co-op program in collaboration with CCAA, the Canadian government, and ourselves. CCAA provides the educational foundational tools, our facility provides the on-the-job apprenticeship portion, and the government offer some funding support. After graduating, participants begin a 12-week Aviation Maintenance 101 course that includes instructor ledclassroom, on-the-job training, and online learning. The instructor-led training is supported by our industry with different vendors and MROs. Once students pass that level and receive a recommendation to move on to the next, we develop the talent through the core program which is essentially the apprenticeship. Participants have a choice between a Structures (S) or Maintenance (M) license path to complete the apprenticeship program. After finishing, the candidate submits their logbook to Transport Canada, takes the exam, and is then officially an AME, which will take roughly four years.

What advice would you like to impart to your peers to elevate this talent gap?

Participating in the CCAA program in Canada is an effort we took to work toward closing the talent gap. It's a really well-structured program with all the necessary components in place to help students succeed with graduating and becoming licensed. In the meantime, while new and current students pursue this two-year program, we are in a talent deficit for the near future. If more companies can adopt an approach of industry-led training programs, our industry can be in a better position in at least two to four years.

Coming out from the pandemic, how do you see Aviation adapting to the new norm of WFH?

Since the pandemic, more people are favoring remote work arrangements, but that’s currently impractical for most maintenance work, so we are considering alternative wage structures and other strategies for retaining and attracting professionals. At AAR, we are enthusiastic about our total rewards program, which includes things like health insurance, a uniform program, gym memberships, and other fun things to encourage employee engagement and recruit top talent.

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