Thirty representatives of companies and organizations in the helicopter industry met recently to discuss the workforce shortage of pilots and aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) within the helicopter industry. The event, HeliFutures: Creating Strategic Workforce Solutions and Driving Industry Business Outcomes, was held at HAI’s Alexandria, Virginia, offices.
This meeting follows the release of a study earlier in 2018 that quantified the depth of the shortages for the first time. Commissioned by Helicopter Foundation International (HFI) and conducted by the University of North Dakota, the study confirmed the long-held “word on the street” that our industry was experiencing a shortage of pilots and AMTs.
“Based on the University of North Dakota Study, we knew the demand for helicopter pilots and maintenance technicians has outpaced supply and will continue to get worse over the next 20 years,” says Allison McKay, vice president of HFI. “We created HeliFutures to bring the industry together to address the reasons for the shortages and ensure that we have a high-quality, sustainable workforce.”
“These shortages are now stopping our HAI operator members from meeting obligations or accepting new work,” said Matt Zuccaro, HAI president, during opening remarks before the group. “I am pleased that so many could join us to find solutions to one of the most important issues facing our industry today.
“For us to succeed, we must overcome significant obstacles,” continued Zuccaro. “Competition for highly skilled personnel is fierce across aviation, and we see that even nonaviation industries want people with the skills that our pilots and AMTs have.”
Working in smaller teams, the group first identified the industry’s top three workforce challenges:
- The lack of available pilots and aviation maintenance technicians
- Retaining qualified personnel
- Affordability and accessibility of education and training.
The group identified strategies to support and drive industry workforce outcomes. “From our day-and-a-half event, we identified three solutions the industry can develop to retain and attract future helicopter professionals,” continues McKay. “Obviously, there are many ways to tackle this problem, but we decided to focus on these three.”
The three strategies identified are:
- Promote our industry to the next generation. Steps in accomplishing this solution include creating an online portal for both AMTs and pilots that provide a one-stop, comprehensive look at the career, including salary projections, sample career paths, training information, and testimonials from those in the industry.
- Create apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs could be the key to closing the experience gap by providing low-time pilots and AMTs with a way to gain the skills and hours they need to progress in their chosen careers.
- Improve overall employee benefits to increase retention. This strategy will need to be implemented at the company level. Meeting attendees noted that the airline industry is much more vertically integrated than ours—there are fewer companies and they tend to be larger. This gives airlines competitive advantages when competing with the helicopter industry for pilots and AMTs, such as higher pay and extensive recruitment campaigns. However, numerous studies have shown that many factors other than salary are important in job satisfaction. It’s time to be creative in thinking how your company could attract and retain your workforce.