New Nonprofit Pursues MRO Industry Collaboration on Workforce Pipeline Challenges

AAR AMT training
Credit: AAR

Aviation maintenance industry companies, trade associations and schools have joined forces to launch a new nonprofit organization called Choose Aerospace dedicated to promoting aerospace technical careers. In addition to uniting the industry on efforts to promote aerospace career opportunities, the nonprofit is looking to innovate technical training—particularly as the novel coronavirus crisis transforms how the industry approaches MRO education standards.

Initially funded by contributions and Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) member dues, Choose Aerospace is working to unite stakeholders with a common goal. Its board of directors is composed of representatives from AAR, Piedmont Airlines and Aviation Institute of Maintenance, and its 12 founding partners include Aviation Technical Services, United Airlines, the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance and the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association. According to Choose Aerospace president Ryan Goertzen—who also serves as AAR’s vice president of workforce development—the hope is to grow partner organizations to a thousand or more.

Goertzen says the thinking behind Choose Aerospace was similar to that of the dairy industry’s “Got Milk?” campaign, “to try to align all of these organizations that all have the same problem of finding talented, skilled certified workers.” The nonprofit wants to unite stakeholders to work together on efforts to market aerospace technical careers to future workforce pipeline.

“We as an industry do a terrible job of explaining the aviation technical career path,” says Goertzen, noting that Choose Aerospace hopes to “connect all the dots” between introducing younger to students to aerospace career pathways and the opportunities they can take advantage of from high school all the way through to careers in the industry.

While Choose Aerospace has been in the works for close to two years now, the COVID-19 crisis has caused the nonprofit to shift its focus more toward making aerospace career and technical training a priority in secondary schools, particularly in the face of coronavirus-related impacts on technical education.

“School closures have created a real need for computer-based learning options,” says Goertzen. “We think that creates an opportunity to develop standardized aviation technical curriculum that can be used by Part 147 schools and secondary education.”

The nonprofit expects these schools to pursue more computer-based learning options moving forward, with preliminary results of an ATEC survey showing that nearly 60% of schools now intend to seek permanent distance learning approval from the FAA. During a recent ATEC webinar about how aviation maintenance schools are beginning to facilitate in-person lab work, Raymond Thompson, associate dean and interim chair at Western Michigan University noted that the school is looking at the COVID-19 situation as an opportunity, including the creation of mixed reality program using the Microsoft HoloLens that enables students to see inside, take apart and reassemble CFM engines. Thompson said the current situation has provided motivation for schools to look into new technologies and ways to present learning, particularly due to the leverage it has now as the FAA realizes that new ways of learning during COVID-19 have been working.

Crystal Maguire, executive director of ATEC and a member of the Choose Aerospace staff, says the HoloLens example is “exactly the kind of stuff we’re talking about—things that might be too expensive to develop school-by-school, but together we can collaborate and combine our resources to create something that everybody can use.”

Choose Aerospace has released a request for proposal to develop high-tech and relevant resources for aviation technical programs, such as augmented or virtual reality systems replicating real-world environments, videos and computer-based systems enabling more interactive, remote delivery of information. It is working to identify partners to support project development, with special considerations for content that is economical for schools, requires minimal equipment purchases and can be cross-utilized as a career awareness tool.

“We think that there’s going to be a real shift in the way all of our schools are providing content and there’s a real opportunity there. We know there’s a pretty big cost. We’re thinking, ‘Let’s make that type of instruction more available to the schools, but let’s do it as a group so that you can make it accessible to the schools,’” says Maguire. “We don’t want to duplicate efforts or remake any wheels. We want the community to be able to come together, because in the end it really is about collaboration.”

Choose Aerospace already has spoken with a number of companies about content opportunities and Maguire hopes some may be able to develop pilot opportunities by this fall. And although COVID-19 has caused a significant downturn in the aviation industry and disrupted most aviation maintenance schools, the nonprofit believes there will be an even greater need for MRO workforce post-coronavirus—particularly when considering the average age of technicians and prospects of early retirement.

“The average age of a technician isn’t going to get younger. It still means that they’re all older and we still have to work the front-end to ensure the people are there and they have the training they need,” says Goertzen. “I think even during recovery we’re going to struggle to keep finding talent.”

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.