workforce shortage puzzle

This past August, I was invited to participate at NBAA’s second annual Workforce Summit held in Washington DC. The goal of the Summit was to discuss strategies that industry stakeholders can employ to help cope with the workforce shortages our industry is currently experiencing.

While many excellent topics were addressed (as outlined in this NBAA article), the big takeaway for me was that the situation warrants a paradigm shift. Especially as it relates to the pilot and maintenance technician shortage—and the alarming decrease in the number of high school and college graduates entering the industry.

We need to find far more creative solutions than we’ve been trying to date. We simply cannot keep doing what we’re doing and expect different results; it’s never going to happen. To me, that’s the definition of insanity.

And, for those who think we’re only competing for talent strictly based on compensation, I ask you to think again. As the statistics and countless surveys tell us, not everyone today is motivated by money. We’ve documented that fact in several other blogs, as well as in these two surveys we conducted on the pilot shortage and maintenance shortage.


Creative Solutions to the Workforce Shortage

So, what to do? One of the reasons I found the Workforce Summit so gratifying was listening to a number of really out-of-the-box ideas. All with the goal of helping to mitigate some of the challenges we’re facing workforce-wise.

I’m singling out a few of them below.

“Ab Initio” Pilot Training

As you may know, in a typical ab initio program, an airline sponsors a student pilot from the beginning of training, mentors him or her throughout their pilot training and then hires them once they’ve been type-rated and certified.

Boeing has begun just such an ab initio flight training program. Called the “Boeing Pilot Development Program,” it’s company-funded, and it will take the candidate pilots from zero pilot hours to being type-rated in a Boeing jet, and presumably ready for an airline career.

The program will train students “from street to left seat” by putting them through classroom learning, flight instruction, a jet bridge program and a type rating training program, culminating with their employment as a pilot.

David Wright, the Director of the Boeing Pilot Development Program, said the program could cost between $100,000 to $150,000 per student, and would take about 12 months to complete. “The average student would come out of the program with between 200 and 250 hours,” Wright said, which hopefully would encourage a lot of young, aspiring pilots to focus their efforts on checking out this novel program.

Could larger flight departments do something similar so that they’re training pilots to their own high standards to stay within business aviation? Maybe they send someone to train at an accelerated flight school under their mentorship and supervision.


Jump-starting Millennials

The Summit attendees generated several ideas on bringing in pilots far earlier than is usual in our industry. The idea is to hire earlier and then train them on the job-—not at the typical 3,000-hour mark for a line captain or 4,000 hours for a captain.

As airline pilot recruitment intensifies, one proposed solution was to restructure hiring practices in business aviation (read: a paradigm shift) so that young professionals can complete their training and education in a more condensed timeframe, enabling them to enter the workforce faster.

In fact, as Lee Blake, the chief pilot of shuttle operations for Cummins, Inc., noted, “By utilizing an SMS approach, we were able to hire a 1,000-hour, relatively fresh college graduate and successfully get him up to speed, while simultaneously getting the buy-in of our team and executives.”

Not a bad approach.



One of the other challenges to rectifying our workforce shortages is issue of mobility in the industry. Pilots—and, again, particularly the younger generation of them—don’t want to stay put as long as they used to.

One of the most creative suggestions I heard at the Workforce Summit was around the possibility of offering a pilot job-sharing program. For example, hire two semi-retired airline pilots to share a corporate aviation job vs. hiring one young pilot who might move on after a year or so.

The idea intrigued me, so I followed up with that very creative aviation manager who had suggested it during the Summit.

Here’s what he told me: “Essentially, as the airline folks mandatorily retire, some of them still want to fly, but not full time. A scenario with two pilots working one month on, one month off and then splitting a full-time salary offers a unique work/life balance. It lets them continue flying, contribute their knowledge and best practices to the ever-growing ancillary tasks our bizav departments have to accomplish, and also lets them learn the new skill sets needed to survive on this side of the fence.”

This aviation manager went on to say that these folks can give any department five years of service and help bridge the shortage. Or, as he added, it might even create a pipeline for our industry, as the airlines pull our talent in on the front end and we use that talent on the back end.

“We have to come up with some sort of symbiotic relationship, and this may be the beginning of that,” he said.


Promote the Benefits of Bizav

When I speak with API candidates about their career options and goals, I often talk about how business aviation is a performance-based culture vs. a progression-based culture. If, for instance, flying from O’hare to Miami and back keeps you satisfied, then do that.

But if you’re wired for individual success and want to do more than just show up and fly, working for an airline will leave you incredibly dissatisfied. If making multiple things happen at once is your particular cup of tea, then business aviation is a better fit.

At the Summit, we talked about how the role of an aviation leader is twofold. First, you have to know what will keep your pilots engaged. It could be a flexible work schedule, compensation, promotion, etc., but, whatever it is, you must put your finger on it. And, secondly, you have to educate the people you work for about the severity of the industry talent shortage and what it’s going to take to keep your top employees from moving on.


Workforce Shortage: Where do we go from here?

Jo Damato, CAM, NBAA’s Senior Director of Educational Strategy, has had a lot to say on workforce issues in general, but she said this about the importance of the Workforce Summit:

“There is no one perfect fix that will solve all of our aviation workforce shortage concerns. But there are a lot of great solutions that can be developed and implemented at a national level as well as a grassroots level. It’s encouraging that NBAA’s members are exploring job-sharing, ab initio programs and reducing pilot flight time requirements. The key is for them to share their success stories in the hopes that others might follow their lead. NBAA encourages these leaders to work with us to share their stories and best practices and, in turn, we’ll share them with a wider audience.”

Well-said, Ms. Damato!


Your Turn

We need as many creative new ideas as we can muster . . . do you happen to have some in this vein? If so, we’d love to hear them; please share them in the comments below.

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