Attracting talented workforce will be aviation's challenge

March 12, 2012

Over the next 20 years, the aviation industry will need more than 1 million pilots and aircraft technicians to fly and maintain the aircraft needed to support commercial air travel growth, a Boeing representative said March 10 at the International Women in Aviation conference in Dallas.

“Where will we find all of that talent, and how are we going to train them?” said Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Services, a business unit of Commercial Aviation Services, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Noting that just 6 percent of the current pilot population are women, Carbary said only about 3.5 percent of female pilots hold airline transport pilot certificates, and only about 2.7 percent of maintenance technicians are women. She asked the pilots in the audience to raise their hands, and remarked, “Over half the room. These are the stats we have to have reflected in our numbers across the United States and the world, so we have a lot of work to do.”

Carbary said Boeing trains 50,000 pilots and technicians per year across 20 training campuses around the world. “Tomorrow’s aviation workforce is going to be different than today’s,” she said. “They’re more worldly, more technologically savvy, open to change, and certainly more socially connected. They want information when they want it, where they want it, and how they want it.”

Attracting and training talented young people will be a challenge for the industry so that it can continue to be a vital contributor to economic growth, Carbary said. “We aren’t even on the radar screen for millions of young professionals who are entering the workforce,” she said. “They’re going into computer science, medicine, or law. When you look at the hottest industries, aviation and aerospace do not show up.”

Part of the solution is in finding workers who are well educated in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), Carbary said. Only 5 percent of bachelor degrees earned in U.S. universities are in engineering, versus 20 percent in Asia. Fifty percent of doctoral degrees awarded in the United States are to noncitizens, she added. “That’s not a bad thing, but what’s alarming is that most of those students cannot stay in the U.S. once they earn that degree and they take that education home with them,” she said. “We need to make this industry more attractive to everyone who can make a contribution.” She urged conference attendees to utilize another version of STEM—support, teach, educate, and mentor—so that women can continue to make inroads into the industry.