A response to the Oliver Wyman “Not Enough Mechanics” report
We recently shared a report by Oliver Wyman highlighting a predicted gap between the number of planes in operation and the number of mechanics in the aviation industry. It garnered a good amount of interest and comment on LinkedIn, and we felt that these concerns should be addressed in more detail – especially as one of the potential solutions being raised was simply increasing wages, which is easier said than done. This is a really interesting topic because there is definitely a huge skills gap that’s developing. From the baby-boomers to the millennials, there’s a lot of experience and information which we are at risk of losing.
Target them young
I strongly believe that our industry could do more to promote itself to the next generation. Having recently spoken at a Business Aviation conference, the consensus was there is definitely a shortage of professionals with certain skills including Engineers and Pilots. There was also a long discussion about how we seriously need to start promoting our industry. The perception was that we need to get into colleges and universities, but that’s way too late in my opinion. We need to be identifying a passion at an earlier age. If you want to be a vet, you don’t decide that when you’re at university, you’ve decided it years before and you work hard to get the grades you need to then study in the discipline. It should be the same for our industry and we just need to pique their interest by showing our youth that they could go on to maintain state-of-the-art aircraft, travel the world, pilot business jets and so on.
It’s also my opinion that schools as a whole focus far too much on OFSTED ratings and should also be working to help realise the future potential of their students, with a focus on channeling them into careers they’d love, in industries they have a passion for.
The problem of a price war
One issue that’s often raised when we talk about a skills shortage within our industry is money and specifically whether the pay is attractive enough. A key issue when discussing wages as a starting point is can we afford to get into a salary price war and a good example of this is the airline industry. With increased fuel prices and competition to offer cheaper fares, offering more money to mechanics, for example, just isn’t viable.
But for me the wider issue is that people in general, and millennials in particular, place much higher value on the work-life balance than simply money. A focus on increasing the benefits available to staff – including flexible working, private medical cover or even providing access to a financial advisor to help young employees sort their first mortgage – will all help promote this work-life balance. It will also increase employee satisfaction and make it more likely that the skills will stay within the industry rather than being attracted into other areas. A good working environment is a very important factor too and career progression and training, are all elements that appeal to the next generation.
I’d also add, when it comes to pay, that you can always find someone if you pay enough, but this in my opinion is a short-term solution to a longer-term problem. Offer your staff an enjoyable working experience and invest in them and you’ll reap the rewards.
Education in the workplace
Education is key far beyond school, too. For a start, businesses need to train their own staff in new roles to accommodate growth and combat a loss of skills. But beyond training in the actual roles, there should also be a focus on educating staff to embrace and encourage growth. For example, if you have a well-established department you may want to consider how they welcome and accept new ideas when a fresh starter joins the team. Similarly, the new employee needs to be confident that their view counts, encouraging them to share new insights and opinions on their work environment.
Military Personnel Retention
The final issue that’s been contributing to a lack of skills entering the industry is an increase in the retention of military personnel (According to the Times, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has spent more than £107 million in retention and transfer bonuses to nearly 5,000 personnel in roles facing the most severe shortages: https://bit.ly/2EeXgKo). Traditionally there was a good amount of movement from military to civilian employment, driven by the fact that while aviation companies try to avoid a salary price war, they could at least offer more than the military and a better personal/family life balance. In recent years, however, the military has worked hard to close this wage gap and reduce the stream of service leavers.
A skills gap is developing, and has been for a while now. However, an increased focus on promoting the aviation industry to a younger audience – coupled with enhanced working environments, an emphasis on non-cash incentives for staff, and an encouragement to embrace growth and change – can help us all fight back.