Aviation mechanics are harder to find than airline pilots or CFIs in many locations. Too many flight training operations are experiencing downtime in their fleets simply because they don’t have the maintenance staff to complete the necessary work.
Turning 100-hour inspections or finishing annuals and even oil changes without delay can increase a flight training operation's efficiency and profitability. Parts availability is a challenge, but if you have the parts and no one to put them on the aircraft, the airplane still sits idle, costing you money instead of making money and keeping students’ training progressing.
Downtime isn’t just about profitability either. It can be about student training progress. Students waiting for aircraft to come back online get rusty, miss vital good weather training windows, and in the end spend more money and time to complete their training.
While most of us know this, the challenge of recruiting, hiring, and keeping maintenance staff isn’t getting easier for most flight training providers.
Post the job far and wide
Just looking for a mechanic who happens to stroll through your door isn’t going to get the job filled in today’s market. You are going to have to look a little harder.
Post the job and details about the compensation package at many more places than just a local billboard at the airport. Find aviation job boards online. Don’t bother with the newspaper. Think about where modern mechanics are going to look for a job and get the job posted there.
Don’t be afraid to look outside just the local area for future staff. There just might be a good mechanic who hates living in a snowy climate and wants to move to your operation in Florida. There might be a great mechanic who just got married and needs a job in Denver where his wife just got transferred for her job. Or there might be a wonderful mechanic who really hates the heat in Phoenix in the summer and wants to move to upper Michigan because they really like snow.
Spread the word about what you are looking to fill for a job through aviation associations, job boards, and anywhere else you can. It might mean you recruit someone to your location from far away, but you might find more qualified applicants by doing this and end up with a better staff fit in the long run.
Contact maintenance training schools
There are a number of aviation maintenance training schools all around the United States. These schools are putting students through training that will be directly useable when they graduate in aviation maintenance jobs. Go find them before someone else hires them!
Instead of waiting for potential maintenance staff to find you, go find them where they are being created. Find out if there are maintenance schools near you that might have graduates you could hire. Don’t be afraid to contact programs that are further away; not every student goes to school where they live. You might find students that are willing to move to a job that you have to offer.
The Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) might be a good place to start looking for more information. PAMA has a job board on which you might post openings for which you are recruiting.
Build your own maintenance staff
Related to staying in touch with maintenance schools, you might choose to consider a long-term approach to making sure you have adequate maintenance staff. One way to do this is to build them from the ground up with a plan to hire them.
If you currently have enough maintenance staff but plan on growing, have an aging workforce that is approaching retirement considerations, or just want a back-up plan in case any of your staff leave, you might choose to invest in staff training and development. Bringing in younger staff who need some training, experience, mentoring, or even that you send away to get training can be a way to build a future stable workforce.
This takes a different approach than basic “hire them and put them to work” staffing relationships. It might take a very careful selection process and good clear agreements on who pays for what along the way. With that said, you might build staff who are experienced in your operation, who are dedicated, and who grow along with your business if you build them to best serve your operation.
A danger here is if you invest in them and they leave once they have marketable skills. If you are going to do this, be sure both parties are getting a good
Steal them from another operation
Business can be ruthless. You need to keep your operation going, and a part of that is making sure your aircraft are maintained. That might mean it is time to steal a good maintenance person from another operation.
Many great maintenance staff are undervalued by their current employer. Headhunt them and make them a better offer. If their operation doesn’t value them and you will, and it can help make your operation survive and thrive, go for it. It isn’t your fault another business isn’t willing to do what it takes to keep them. A word of caution: If you can do this to others, they can do it to you. It means you need to make sure you are not the lowest bidder in a market for staff if you want to keep them.
Attend an IA recurrent seminar
A good place to find local IA mechanics is to attend IA recurrent seminars. This is where IAs go to keep their certificate active. It can also be a great place to find mechanics who are not currently committed to an employer or might be open to new job opportunities. It might also be a place you could go headhunting without having to walk into the competition’s maintenance shop.
You can find a list of providers of IA Refresher Courses on the FAASafety.gov website if you search for “IA Renewal Course List.” Check it out and find one in your area.
It also happens to be a great event to sit in on as a pilot, CFI, or flight training provider to learn more about what is happening in the aviation maintenance sector of our industry. Sign up for one today. Go recruit and learn a little at the same time.
The days of paying a mechanic $15per hour are gone. A staff member who is a trained maintenance professional is a critical piece of a flight training operation. If you are going to hire them, you are going to have to pay competitively to attract and keep them. As the skills to maintain general aviation aircraft utilized in most flight training operations become scarcer in less qualified people, the pay scale will increase. It’s basic economics. Sure, we may not like it, but it is part of the market.
Get creative with your compensation matrices if you need to in order to attract and keep staff. It might mean doing more than paying a basic hourly wage. Benefits are a critical part of many potential staff member’s considerations. Health benefits might only be on part of that. What does time off look like? Do you offer something such as allowances for aircraft use? Do you provide housing? How about paying for additional or recurrent training for your staff?
Many of these ideas sound like extra things we may not want to have to pay for in a flight training operation, but it might be the factor that makes your operation more attractive to work for to a highly qualified staff member.
These are costs that you then must build into your service costs. If you have to pay more for the staff that keep the aircraft running, you might have to increase your rental rates. But if you have more “up time” on your aircraft, it may not be as much as you might initial think. Staff keep our operations going. The cost of staff has to be a part of the business pricing model.
Attracting, training, and keeping maintenance staff to keep flight-training aircraft operating is critical to keeping a flight-training business running. To do this most flight training operations that maintain their own maintenance staff may have to get more creative, think longer-term, and in some cases get ruthless. Not doing this is worse. If your aircraft are down or improperly maintained, business viability is sacrificed. In the worst of cases, safety is compromised.
Get aggressive and creative as you recruit your next generation of aircraft maintenance service professionals.