Aviation sector needs to bridge skills gap

The aviation industry needs to tackle the issue of an ageing workforce and keeping apace of new technology before an emerging national skills gap becomes a problem.

New independent research commissioned by the Aviation, Tourism and Travel Training Organisation has shown that more than half of people currently working across the aviation sector are now aged over 45 and only 7% of the sample are aged under 25.

The survey, undertaken by Angus and Associates surveyed people from aviation workplaces with a combined staff of more than 7,400 including pilots, aviation engineers, ground staff and air traffic control staff. The survey showed that when you excluded flight attendants, the sector was 83% male, and half of all staff were more than 45 with nearly 20% of staff aged over 55.

Kathy Wolfe, ATTTO Chief Executive said: "Unless the sector does more to attract new men and women to the sector they could be facing problems within the next five to 10 years. It's of critical importance in making a sustainable aviation sector in New Zealand that those retiring have people to pass their knowledge and experience on to.

"There's a risk that a lot of institutional knowledge and skill will be walking out the doors in the next decade, and businesses really need to capture and retain it."

The figures show that there is a growing awareness of the issue, and its effects are already beginning to be felt. 60% of those surveyed reported that they are already feeling the effects of an ageing workforce on their workplaces, half said they were being affected to a large degree.

Attracting new staff, retention and development were identified as the main challenges, particularly for pilots and aeronautical engineers. Companies were also looking to increase staff in ground handling, support and training roles for air traffic control and engineering trades.

Irene King, CEO of the Aviation Industry Association, said: "At its essence the survey identifies the criticality of accelerating the entry of appropriately qualified people into the industry.

"Sustaining present levels of contribution to our economy will become very challenging let alone meeting our 9% growth targets unless we increase training in key sub groups such as pilots, engineering and air traffic control."

Amongst existing staff there was going to be the requirement to gain additional skills and experience. More than half said that they needed support in keeping apace of the regulatory environment, particularly regarding safety and compliance. New technologies such as composite materials and IT integration were identified as a training need by around a third of respondents.

Kathy Wolfe said: "It's testament to the sector that they have such a high percentage of experienced and long standing staff, but it's time to face the reality that both technology and staff move on, and the sector has to act now to meet these challenges."