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Could Women Answer Aviation’s Tech Shortage?

With crowds flocking to visit Women in Aviation International (WAI) at the recent AirVenture Oshkosh 2018, Dave Higdon wonders why more isn’t being done to enable women to address the pending staffing shortages in aviation…

Dave Higdon   |   30th July 2018
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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With crowds flocking to visit Women in Aviation International (WAI) at the recent AirVenture Oshkosh 2018, Dave Higdon wonders why more isn’t being done to enable women to address the pending staffing shortages in aviation…
 
 
Though the vendors pitching trades education to women were apparent around the showgrounds of this year’s AirVenture, the idea of female maintenance technicians still unsettles some within the industry.
 
Nevertheless, Suzanne Markle, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA), flagged up an idea that could help the aviation community fill its critical technician shortage; a suggestion made by a respondent to a survey by the PIA.
 
“[Career] Counselors need to stop the 'surprised' look when female students want to consider trade schools,” noted a respondent to PIA's survey of its female students. That survey produced some surprising findings, and the following points were among them:
 
  • More than half of PIA's female students first explored a different career path before gravitating to aeronautics;
  • Two-thirds of those respondents said they didn't know any other women working in the aviation trade before applying to PIA;
  • Nearly every respondent urged high-school guidance counselors to provide female students with information about trade schools in addition to the more "traditional" options like a four-year school or nursing, better enabling students to make their own minds up about their futures.
 
Grounding-Level Shortage

Aviation needs these women to move beyond being interested to getting trained because, according to a Boeing report delivered at AirVenture, pilots and technicians are already retiring faster than they can be replaced.
 
Fewer men are pursuing aviation careers than in the past, and the retirement pace is only likely to increase. Worsening shortages loom at all levels of aviation.
 
Statistically, although 30% of the workforce is at (or near) retirement age, new-hires replenish only 2% of the workforce annually. And as we all know, a labor shortage can impact costs the same as any other shortage in business, creating pricing and demand problems for passengers and cargo carriers and, by extension, Business and General Aviation.
 
 
No Cures Without Concerted Effort

Women started moving into cockpit jobs decades ago. Yet women barely show up in statistics for avionics and maintenance technicians, and for no good reason. “The reasons are countless to encourage females of every age and background to seek out and excel in career fields that have been previously affiliated with male roles,” Markle said in a release from PIA.
 
“And if solving a critical labor shortage isn’t incentive enough, experts have suggested that encouraging females in fields such as aviation can have significant economic impact.”
 
According to a recent study from the McKinsey Global Institute, efforts to close the gender gap could boost the economy by an extra $2.1 trillion in gross domestic product.
 
Encouraging the fulfillment of women interested in taking up a wrench and servicing aircraft can't help but move aviation toward catching up and filling the ranks with qualified people. The airplane doesn't know or ask whether the A&P is a woman or a man – and who should care, as long as aircraft continue to fly?
 
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Read more about: Women in Aviation | Aircraft Maintenance | Aviation Careers | Dave Higdon

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