Recently, a community college in New Mexico reached out to its aviation advisors to help the college recruit a new generation of students for its Aviation Technology Maintenance program. They realized that the interest in aviation maintenance was trending downward year over year, and Generation Z had absolutely no interest in pursuing a career as an aircraft technician or mechanic.
Generation Z is the largest and youngest of the five generations in the United States, and it will represent 40 percent of the population by 2020. This generation accounts for all of the students enrolling in college today. These students are pressuring colleges and universities to abandon their well-established learning practices or become irrelevant.
Attracting the interest and involvement of Generation Z to aircraft maintenance presents a similar hiring problem for the entire industry. The Aeronautical Repair and Service Association (ARSA) revealed that a whopping 11,000 aircraft technician positions may have remained unfilled in the United States. It’s estimated that the industry lost out on as much as $1.95 billion in economic activity in 2017 from those unfilled positions. A Boeing report estimates that 679,000 new technicians and mechanics would be needed globally by 2035 to service the new fleet of aircraft.
To find a solution to this problem, a group of U.S. Senators recently introduced legislation to address the technician shortage. The new bill would grant up to $500,000 per year for businesses, unions and schools to partner together and pursue creative solutions to recruit new aircraft technicians and mechanics.
Change (Before You Are Forced to Change)
The New Mexico community college recognized early that disruptive change was needed to attract the Generation Z students into their aircraft maintenance program. The college’s aviation advisors recommended three top areas of consideration for training on the transformation of maintenance tools to digital:
- Opportunity for scale, automation and productivity realized by big data and artificial intelligence
- Orientation for predictable outcomes to reinvent new maintenance models from the aircraft and operations reactive, preventive, condition-based and predictive data.
- Outcomes for increased technician productivity, reduced unplanned downtime, increased safety and compliance realized from the maintenance digital tools.
The opportunity, orientation and outcome training in reactive, preventive, condition-based and predictive digital tools is a must-have to realize safe and compliant maintenance to the new fleet of aircraft. It’s estimated that these new digital tools would increase aircraft fleet availability by 35 percent and reduce labor costs by 10 percent.
Attracting the new generation of talent to a career in aircraft maintenance is unprecedented. This next generation of aircraft technicians and mechanics has seen more technology changes in the last decade than any other generation. They are well adapted to innovation with an aptitude to learn new technology quickly.
Solving the Generation Z recruitment challenge will require industry partners and schools to work together and pursue creative initiatives to attract the next generation of technician and mechanics to the aircraft maintenance industry.
These initiatives should include innovative programs that appeal to the unique strengths, preferences, and learning styles of Generation Z. For example, a college certification in aircraft drone maintenance inspection would offer the appeal of using drones and make the process fun and interactive, while creating new and exciting outcomes. Industrial partners could be identified to help with the needed enterprise data infrastructure. The partnership may also qualify for new government incentives to help with the recruiting programs.
Generation Z is the future of aviation. Without a clear hiring and training strategy, the industry will ultimately be slow in their transition to digital and lack the efficiencies for safe aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul to the new fleet of aircraft.