Aerospace Industry Growing, Struggling to Find Workers

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As the aerospace industry in the US enjoys a surge in business, manufacturers are struggling to meet demand due to a severe shortage of qualified workers. Results of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) 2018 member survey paints a grim picture of the future with more than 80% of those who responded indicating difficulty finding qualified technicians.

Connecticut, a long-time hub for aerospace component manufacturers is having an especially hard time filling the over 13,000 available positions in the state. East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney manufactures geared turbofan jet engines, which are growing in popularity thanks to their quiet operation and fuel efficiency, has a backlog of 8,000 engines on order. The lack of skilled labor is making it impossible to meet demand.

On May 16th, aerospace industry executives met at New England Air Museum at Windsor Locks. Approximately 150 representatives attended the meeting to address a common issue for all aerospace manufacturers; the shortage of experienced and trained employees to handle the increase in orders. So these companies are looking for options to bridge the skills gap in the labor force.

Max McIntyre, vice president of New England Airfoil Products based in Farmington said that Connecticut remained extremely viable for manufacturing the many complex components used in jet engines, so it was important for the company to find more skilled employees rather than lose the business to other states or worse, other countries. Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development told the audience at the annual gathering that development of a skilled workforce remained the top priority for the government with the state offering financial and other support from a state fund for manufacturing for training.

Using statistics from the Labor Department, Ms Smith said that approximately 13,600 jobs were available in the manufacturing sector in the Connecticut alone. Though the boom in the aerospace sector was exciting for the state, she said that it created new problems, as manufacturers found it difficult to hire trained employees with relevant skills. The state government is working closely with the aerospace component manufacturers to encourage young people to consider a career in the manufacturing sector, interacting with them in technical training schools, community colleges and high schools. Those who work in the aerospace sector are speaking to students at every available opportunity. In some cases students who have studied other subjects such as finance are being re-trained in manufacturing work.

On May 8th, a bill sponsored by Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) introduced a bill to address this growing problem. The bill creates a new program to provide education grants to develop of the aviation maintenance workforce. The new program will be administered by the FAA.