An outsider looking at the MRO industry might think we send conflicting signals about our workforce needs. Companies are laying off thousands in the U.S., while entities in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific clamor for more technicians and MRO managers. Is there a shortage or not? You could argue that the global MRO growth is simply shifting eastward and the workforce scales are becoming unbalanced, but that argument alone is weak.

If you believe in the scale analogy, a weighty force comes from American Airlines, which plans to close its Alliance maintenance facility near Dallas and downsize in Tulsa. The result will eliminate thousands of MRO jobs and most likely drive some very talented people from our industry as they seek employment elsewhere. (Visit our Turnaround Time blog to see lively discussion on this topic.)

Many MRO people I spoke with in February at Aviation Week's MRO Middle East Conference in Dubai lamented how hard it is to find enough trained technical talent for their airline and independent MROs. And if they do, retaining them can be equally challenging. However, a big shift is starting in the Gulf states as companies such as Gulf Air and Joramco focus on training their local population instead of relying on recruits from lower-cost labor pools in Asia. There is a shortage of maintenance technicians and managers in the Gulf, but there also is a lot of engineering talent in the region. Joramco CEO Simon Tate has placed a lot of emphasis on developing his workforce through the company's training academy, creating a good workplace and gaining loyalty. These are good steps.

Now let's look at Singapore. As Aviation Week's Madhu Unnikrishnan reports from the city state, MRO comprises more than 90% of the country's aerospace industry and accounts for 25% of the Asia-Pacific region's aftermarket industry. Singapore is not achieving this because it has the lowest wages, but what happens if other countries poach from this highly skilled maintenance and engineering pool? The Singapore Economic Development Board is aware of the challenge.

Despite the competitive environment, Singapore is seeing a growing number of residents attracted to aerospace���at home. The reason is as simple as it is smart: Singapore's economic developers work at the grassroots level and engage students before they've chosen a career, with the result that ���tertiary education courses in aerospace are among the most popular and are highly oversubscribed, demonstrating a deep enthusiasm for work in the field,��� reports Unnikrishnan.

Singapore deems aerospace a strategic growth industry for the country and has set out to climb the value chain by growing its engineering and design talent. Does the area in which you live believe this is the case? Is aviation seen as a growth platform?

���Talent is extremely portable,��� says Jon Boyle, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, especially for the young. To make your workforce less mobile, consider creating a training strategy that advances your company's needs���one that makes people want to get up and come to work.

���Make the training program part of your company's continuous improvement program,��� one that will develop your staff, improve retention and advance your business strategy, suggests Juergen Hacker, partner of Con Moto Consulting. It is highly probable that this investment will improve profitability as well.

This is a tough business environment. You need sound business and technology strategies, but you also need good people.

Lee Ann Tegtmeier