Retiring Baby Boomers Leave Hole In Labor Workforce
Let's face it. For those of a
certain age, retirement is either here or not far off. And that
impending "brain drain" of talent will affect the aerospace
industry, as well as every other facet of life as we know it.
But since this is an aerospace publication, let's focus on how
one country is addressing this particular aerospace problem.
Canada's Department of Defense (DND) is looking to partner with
the private sector to develop training programs to overcome the
chronic shortages of skilled aviation and aerospace technicians
across that vast country, reports Canada's Business Edge.
The challenges arising from a graying workforce and the need to
replenish the talent pool were topics of discussion by military
officials, federal government officials, aviation company
executives, technology developers, and educators at a recent
Society for the Advancement of Modeling and Simulation symposium
held at Carleton University in Ottawa.
"I would like to see the air force be part of a system that
generates good, qualified technicians for our country," said
Lieut.-Col. Rick Thompson, an air force training officer who helped
co-ordinate the Ottawa event. "If we have a well of people with
knowledge about safe aviation practices, that's a good thing."
He said representatives from DND, Human Resource Skills
Development Canada, and community colleges agree that the air force
and aviation industry are losing skilled people, while colleges
"don't seem to be taking in enough people at the rates that the
"We concurred that we have a problem on a national scale," he
said. Thompson, himself, is in his 30th year with the air
According to the
Aviation Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), the country is
home to more than 1,100 certified aircraft maintenance
organizations, which generate more than $2.8 billion (US) in annual
revenues and employ 17,000 highly skilled workers.
While accurate, up-to-date reports on aerospace labor demand are
difficult to acquire, "demographics being what they are, we're
looking at some pretty ugly numbers with the aging workforce," said
One idea from Canadian Forces and private companies is to
increase the number of skilled technicians through the use of
Internet-based 3-D modeling and simulation software that can
recreate aircraft components without the cost of building costly
The air force graduates 300 recruits each year from its basic
training school, but would like to turn out more pilots and
technicians, he added. Ottawa covers university tuition costs for
recruits who sign up for a five-year stint in the air force.
The air force is also partnering with Collège Edouard
Montpetit and the Nova Scotia Institute of Technology on technician
The two colleges use an air force instruction syllabus while
officers are on campus to monitor students.
Thompson said the air force is trying to be as flexible as
possible in its "human resource approach."
"There's a certain amount of contracting out that has to take
place to keep the fleets going," he said. "There are (air force)
fleets that are contemplating variations on getting more contracted
assistance and then we can recycle people who are may be wanting to
move to the private sector but still like the air force work. We'll
hire them on contract."
Thompson said DND and the Canadian aviation industry can also
partner to assist Asian markets meet rapidly increasing demand for
aviation equipment, services, and maintenance.
"India, China, Indonesia - all the emerging markets - are going
to have a big demand for pilots and technicians. That's going to be
The majority of technicians, whether they are in the air force
or working for an airline, are in their 40s.
Thompson stressed the DND welcomes individuals of all ages and
recruiting younger officers is just one of many approaches being
used to increase the labor pool.
"We're looking at what happens when those 40-year-olds turn into
50-year-olds, which is not that far off," says Thompson.
The Internet is creating many opportunities on which the air
force and companies can capitalize together, Thompson added. It
will also enable the air force to unify its training programs
across the country.
According to Jeff Roberts,
president of the innovation and civil training and services group
for Montreal-based CAE, which operates 25 training centers around
the world and trains technicians and pilots for the private sector
and military, demand is being driven by the number of new aircraft
going into service globally and the fact that traditional
labor-supply sources are not as robust as in the past.
"A lot of pilots and maintenance (historically) came out of the
military and the military has not seen the same number leaving
their ranks - or even being in their ranks - as we've experienced
in the past. One of the fallouts is the attraction to get into
aerospace industry. We saw some pretty material declines after the
event of 9/11. Today, we're paying the price of that to some
Roberts estimates that every airplane that goes into service
requires 10 to 12 maintenance people. If the global delivery
average is 700 to 900 new commercial planes per year, that results
in a demand for about 15,000 new maintenance technicians annually.
Balance that against the number of retirements, which is expected
to peak within a few years.
Historically, said Roberts, 60 to 70 percent of technicians
employed at North American companies have had military experience.
But with declining numbers of people entering and coming out of the
military, companies have had to recruit from other sources and
adapt training programs, because ex-military personnel were more
"up to speed."
Calgary-based aviation industry analyst Rick Erickson said
former Canadian air force personnel are not a reliable source of
maintenance talent for the private sector because ex-military
technicians are required to obtain provincial certification and
must first take refresher courses and write exams at technical
schools; many do not want to go through the training process
Another issue: Senior technicians have been well paid and have
good pension benefits, with many leaving the industry as early as
possible, often at age 55.
"That does not work to the advantage of the Forces," noted
Typically, they can't - or at least they haven't until recently
- been able to pay as much as the private sector, he added.
"… part of the reason why they've gone the third-party route
(for maintenance and repairs)."
Erickson said the industry has to attract more students into
college programs, including recruiting expatriates working