ATEC Members Testify on Capitol Hill, Highlight Workforce Development Challenges
***Update 2/26/20*** Read ATEC's written statement submitted to the congressional hearing record here.
It is clear from testimony at the recent hearing on workforce issues before the House Aviation Subcommittee, that more programs are being developed to attract kids at a younger age and to create high school partnerships, internships and apprenticeships. Industry and government are also working to ensure smoother transitions between military and civilian workforces.
Witnesses, including Aviation High School Principal Steven Jackson and Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology President Sharon DeVivo joined Delta Tech Ops and Gulfstream Aerospace to deliver a unified message. Eliminating barriers to entry, creating new funding streams, and updating antiquated training regulations were suggestions provided for governmental support of aviation workforce development.
Training capacity is a barrier, according to Aviation High School Principal Steven Jackson, who reported the entire aviation maintenance school capacity in the US is 35,000 students but because of the outdated perception of aviation mechanics, part 147 schools fill only half the seats. He indicated schools will not be able to meet the demand for193,000 aviation maintenance personnel in the next 20 years, especially as other industries attract graduates away from aviation. He suggested a rebranding of sorts.
“Troubleshooting a Boeing 787 requires an individual with advance training, who has the ability to analyze symptoms, read and interpret sophisticated wiring diagrams, use complex tooling, and test equipment in order to determine the root of the problem,” said Jackson. “Within the industry, we often debate the titles of positions: mechanic vs technician. However, we strongly feel that the mechanic would be better represented and marketed, as a career, if they were to be branded as the aircraft engineers as they are.”
Jackson also pushed for lowering the employment age to provide high school students the opportunity to get on-airport jobs.
Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology President Sharon DeVivo noted that education programs like Vaughn provide an equality of opportunity, with 82% of students coming from minority communities.
“The average family income for a Vaughn student is about $39,000 and within one year of graduation, 99 percent of those students are employed or continuing their education,” she said, noting the average debt load is more than $17,000 for maintenance students. “That is the evidence of the transformation possible with a Vaughn education. We don’t just change that student’s life we change the whole family’s trajectory.
DeVivo went on to suggest that Congress increase the maximum Pell award since many student families do not qualify for a PLUS loan (the traditional loan offered to parents of students) owing to credit scores or lack of credit. “By lowering the overall debt load for the neediest students, you provide a lifetime career path with incredible opportunities.”
The two educators were joined by Joseph McDermott, managing director, Delta Technical Operations, Jay Neely, vice president of law and public affairs, Gulfstream Aerospace and Dana Donati, general manager and director of academic programs, LIFT Academy. All urged support for new regulations for training aviation maintenance personnel, now the subject of FAA rulemaking and legislation introduced in the Senate and House late last year.
Witnesses and legislators expressed growing frustration with the slow rulemaking process and the FAA’s continued delay to promulgate a new part 147. The Promoting Aviation Regulations for Technical Training (PARTT) 147 Act of 2019 would update decades old regulation in favor of a performance-based system and ensure schools have the flexibility to teach relevant curriculum.
Industry welcomed news, delivered by FAA Senior Advisor for Aviation Workforce Outreach Kate Lang, that the agency is planning to issue part 147 by October. Lang’s fills a new FAA position responsible for promote intra-agency support of workforce issues. The recent creation of the FAA’s Aviation Workforce Steering Committee will assess aviation workforce challenges and identify concrete actions that will have a positive impact.
But her appointment, while welcome, also indicated how late government is to addressing the shortage. General Accountability Office (GAO) Director Physical Infrastructure Issues Heather Krause spoke of a need to further study the issue and gather data from various departments. In addition, Krause suggested there is no shortage, as GAO reported in its most recent workforce study analyzed by ATEC recently. Arizona Representative Greg Stanton countered GAO's conclusion stating studies show 50% of workers are shortly heading into retirement and 70% of companies surveyed reported hiring difficulties.
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