Members of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) voted overregulation as their number one long-term concern in the association’s annual member’s survey, but uneasiness about skilled worker shortages was close behind at the number two spot, said Christian Klein, EVP, ARSA, at the association’s symposium last week in Arlington, Va. The workforce issue came in as the second most important long-term threat to the aviation maintenance industry, tied with high fuel prices and grievances with the FAA.

The results of the survey, which polled 93 of ARSA’s 443 members, indicate that 57% of survey respondents have had trouble in the past two years filling technical positions. Respondents reported that the the average starting hourly wage for entry-level technicians was $12.92, and the median starting wage was $13.50. Of the participants, 65% expected their business and markets to grow in the coming year, while 32% expected no change. Three percent anticipated seeing a decline in business.

The ARSA survey indicates that many of the association’s members are planning to hire in 2012. More than 60% of respondents planned to add positions in 2012, and about three percent planned layoffs and job cuts. However, the association says that “very few” of its members are taking appropriate actions to attract, train and retain employees—especially young ones.

Data from the ARSA survey show that MROs have room to grow when it comes to their involvement in education. Of those repair stations who responded to the survey, 14% serve on an advisory board at a technical school, about 26% participate in on-campus recruitment at technical schools and just over 5% give scholarships to current students. About a quarter reported having an internship program at their company, but only 8.6% reported having a mentorship program.

Michael Young, senior manager, aircraft maintenance at FedEx Express, says his company is increasingly looking for technicians with additional skills beyond the standard A&P license, such as knowing how to work with structural components and sheet metal. According to a slide he presented during Wednesday’s presentation, the average FedEx aircraft maintenance technician (AMT) is 49 years old. The age distribution showed that about 27% of its AMTs were between 45 and 50, compared to 3.7% under 35. This type of age distribution at MRO companies is not uncommon throughout the industry.

“We’re only expecting it to get worse if we don’t change,” said Young, who serves on the board of directors at The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. The group works to ignite interest from both parents and students about the aviation industry through various projects, including bringing aerospace professionals into schools to talk about the industry and furnishing scholarships to future aviation leaders.