Aircraft maintenance and technician training have taken center stage for a while now within the industry. We have a full-blown crisis building, and it needs to be given a platform. But what is at the root of the problem?
We can easily pin the blame on retiring baby boomers, who have made up the backbone of the trade (and many other trade skills) for years. But that doesn’t adequately answer why there haven’t been ranks of technicians filling in behind the retiring generation.
We can blame the pandemic, but this isn’t true either. The sort of disaster we’re seeing now results from decades of neglect, not two years of disaster. Whatever the reasons, the truth is that we are here now, and we must find a way through this. What’s the result of not correcting the course? The possible collapse of the industry. We cannot stress the significantly reduced technician workforce's impact on the industry. Of course, what happens in the commercial air industry disrupts global markets. You can see where this is going.
Let’s take a peek at what goes on in training and see if we can develop any solutions to improve it.
What Is “Return on Training?”
What we mean by this is the return on investment (ROI) of training. What are the technicians getting out of the curriculums?
Are the airlines getting a positive ROI on their technicians from taking courses? And finances aside, are the courses making them more valuable and useful as technicians? If the answer is no, then the ROI is neutral or negative. Neither of these outcomes is favorable.
What Guidance Is Followed?
Ironically, the only real guidance that the FAA provides for aircraft maintenance tech training is in the stages leading up to and issuing the initial certification for the airframe and powerplant certificates, and then again for inspection authorities (IAs).
Since the A4A comprises almost all of the major carriers in the U.S., they serve as the agency to provide a standard operating practice for aircraft maintenance training based on thousands of technicians taught and millions of flight hours flown.
How Do the Airlines Train Techs?
Now that we understand what the syllabus is, or at least where it comes from, how do the airlines train the techs?
There are a couple of avenues used fairly routinely in the process.
The aircraft manufacturers usually offer a course that techs can attend for aircraft familiarization training.
Now, here’s the catch: each airframe has its coursework, and they are extensive. A lot of the GENFAM courses run 40+ hours.
However, the main service the manufacturers provide is “train-the-trainer” coursework. Airlines or third-party vendors can send their instructors to receive advanced training in GENFAM or systems training. The result is an in-house instructor for either an MRO, airline or third party.
Sending out a bad stabilizer actuator to a third-party vendor is easier and cheaper than doing the work and keeping the tooling in-house. The same holds for training departments. It’s easier and cheaper to hire out training who has already developed the curriculum and brings qualified instructors.
Of course, this gets complicated when trying to keep track of their coursework and billing. Our software suite keeps you in touch with your technicians while keeping your accounts in order.
What Are The Problems With This Model?
Over the years, a few problems have cropped up with this model of aircraft maintenance tech training. These are mostly in the form of either technician getting onboard with the company just long enough to get type-qualified, or the training products are inferior.
Job hopping is a real thing. Like a pilot with a type rating, a technician with type rating training is more valuable if they try to get on board a major air carrier. For instance, if you want to get on board with Southwest, you obviously want B737-type training. The easiest way to do this and be recognized was to get hired on to a budget carrier or a regional airline that operates a similar aircraft, go through the GENFAM and systems courses, and bolt for a better-paying job.
To combat this, it’s becoming a common procedure to enforce probationary periods before sending an employee to training. The flip side, though, is operators who may be holding out far beyond the probationary periods to send an employee to GENFAM. It makes sense to get the employee vetted by supervisors and vested in the company, but at some point, even loyal employees will grow tired of their careers being held up.
Inferior digital products are floating around every market, including aircraft maintenance. What is sold as a digital solution may be a poorly written course thrown together to make a buck. Because of the technical nature of the work, there may not be enough competitors to hedge out bad performers in the space.
What Can Be Done About It?
Turnover is the nemesis of an aircraft maintenance organization. It takes years for your technicians to be fully proficient, regardless of how many courses they have taken.
The best course of action is to take control of your maintenance training. Building your culture is the key to winning the attrition war. Onboarding new employees and immersing them in a positive culture will set the tone, and the only way to do this is to take control of the entire onboarding and training process.
To maintain training materials and ensure standards are met, our talent efficiency and labor-saving capabilities are well suited to get your workforce on the same page. Also, all internal memos and standards can be stored in our content distribution systems, so your entire team is on the same page. Whether it’s their first day or their 30th year, they will know exactly what it means to be part of your team and where to find all your guiding directives.
Safety is always the cornerstone of aircraft training and will continue throughout their careers. A safety management system is critical for your organization, it is becoming an industry standard, and your employees need to become familiar with it immediately.
Aircraft maintenance is an exciting career field that is also rewarding when run well. But it is in a bad spot right now. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can move forward and start correcting courses. In the meantime, we can leverage technology to employ talent efficiency to combat travel delays. We can use communications technology and strategies to level the playing field, pairing up seasoned technicians with green technicians regardless of their physical locations.
While we are figuring out how to improve ROI on technician training for the long term, we are in a position of having to use what we have at our disposal and optimize it. Our software solutions help you get the most out of your workforce, from talent efficiency to maintenance billing, streamlined ground and flight operations communications, and much more.