The full Aircraft Maintenance Technology article can be found at

Help Wanted: Navigating Aviation’s Talent Markets

Near the airport, in Anthony, Kansas, sit the remains of a concrete arrow and a beacon tower. They remind us of what was once a network of ‘Beacon-Towers’ stretching from New York to San Francisco. It was the ‘next generation’ of aviation navigation. Before then, pilots navigated primarily by pilotage: looking out their windows for familiar landmarks.

Nearly 1500 installations in total, the Beacon Tower system was launched in 1924 by the US Postal Service. It was unlike any system anywhere in the world. The network was a big deal. It helped pilots find what they were looking for more quickly and reliably and, more importantly, at night.

Innovations in navigation have undoubtedly driven industry growth. Early methods – pilotage, non-directional radio beacons – have given way to today’s satellite-based Global Positioning Systems (GPS). GPS raised the bar for the entire industry. Safety and service efficiencies are insured with reliable information. Navigation became more precise, enabling closer spacing of planes. Expanded route capacities created value and industry growth.

Navigating Aviation’s Talent Markets: New Opportunities for Growth

Nowadays, industry growth depends on other factors. Talent management – the business of finding, recruiting and developing a reliable workforce – is now foundational to sustaining industry growth. Compared with innovations in aviation navigation, though, many industry talent management practices still appear to be at the ‘pilotage’ stage of their evolution.

Demand planning methods vary greatly. The use of predictive analytics to understand which job will succeed and why is uneven. Design and administration of skills assessments of incoming talent are often imprecise and uneven. As a result, to borrow a factory floor metric, costs of ‘talent rework’ can be high.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it costs one-third of a new hire’s annual salary to replace him or her.

Workforce Institute

Step One in managing talent – finding it – can often be a time-consuming ‘seat-of-the-pants’ navigation by employers sifting through innumerable talent spot markets spread across the country.

Industry leaders are worried.

  • The key to any successful company is its workforce. The aviation sector is no different. Increasingly, however, our member companies find it harder to attract and retain the talent pool necessary to maintain and grow aerospace leadership. To maintain competitiveness, we need a workforce that is ready and available in areas where our manufacturers are located.” – Peter Bunce, CEO General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
  • Even when the biggest companies and OEMs manage to bring talent into their own organisation, they worry about the talent their sub-contractors and suppliers can source. A shortage of talent can make these companies weak links in the production chain when major OEMs increase their output.” –Industry Analysts, Alix Partners, LLP
  • Eighty-six percent of Aeronautical Repair Station Association members reported having difficulty searching for qualified workers, and 26 percent said the search was ‘very difficult.’” – Aviation Institute of Maintenance

Among the many motivations to upgrade the industry’s approaches to talent management is the projected growth in new hires. It’s literally a world-wide challenge.

Among the many motivations to upgrade the industry’s approaches to talent management is the projected growth in new hires. It’s literally a world-wide challenge.

Navigating the Talent Market: An Aviation Industry Talent Supply Chain

In the face of these challenges, more and more organizations are leaning in to help. One, the National Center for Aviation Training (NCAT) in Wichita, Kansas, is testing a plan intended to help employers source reliable talent efficiently. NCAT’s goal is to create an aviation industry talent supply chain.

Managed by the Wichita Area Technical College (WATC), NCAT was originally conceived as a regional training facility. WATC’s experience in managing a Department of Labor project, coupled with new thinking by national experts about talent markets, illuminated opportunities for NCAT to create ‘next generation’ talent solutions for the industry.

Intriguing questions emerged. Could NCAT serve regional and national needs? Could educational institutions and certification providers actually work as a supply chain to provide value-added programs and services to employers? How can supply chain management practices help solve talent shortages?

In search of answers, NCAT executives surveyed industry leaders in late 2015 and early 2016 to discuss their talent management priorities.

Topping the list was a frequently voiced concern: “we can’t navigate the educational system very well. We’re uncertain if what is taught is what our job candidates need to know to perform well”.

Almost all the respondents called for better ways to source talent from colleges and universities across multiple markets simultaneously.

Armed with this insight, NCAT is market testing a business plan which has four primary objectives:

  1. Establish NCAT as a third-party talent provider organization which links the best aviation education and certification programs nationally into a talent supply chain.
  2. Create teams of institutions to train and deliver job-ready candidates to employers, based on competency specifications set by the employers.
  3. Provide contracted advisory services to employers on talent management methods and tools.
  4. Sustain the new enterprise with membership and sponsorship investment options and support for regular trust-based forums to exchange best practices in talent management.

To be sure, creating a supply chain of educational institutions poses specific, but surmountable, challenges for educators – the primary ‘suppliers’ of talent. James Hall, WATC’s Dean of Aviation Technologies, leads WATC’s solution design work for its talent supply chain projects with employers. He observed that colleges can be successful talent providers if they work “to help bring colleges and businesses together to provide the exact training required by employers.

Many educational institutions out there really don’t have a good connection to the industry and what (the aviation industry) needs from their students

Daniel Wolfe, National Business Aviation Association, Corporate Aviation Management Committee Member -2016

An increasing number of colleges and universities think it’s worth the effort. Joining a talent supply chain can redefine ‘community’ for community colleges in ways very beneficial to students. Teaming with other institutions across the country to meet employers’ talent needs translates to institutional brand enhancement and expanded career opportunities for students.

NCAT is researching similar initiatives to help guide its plan, including some found internationally. Germany, long-known for assuring industry pools of future talent by mandating apprenticeships, is now home to the Hamburg Centre of Aviation Training (HCAT). What’s notable about HCAT is how well universities, colleges and employers collaborate to develop curricula. Alignment of education program content to employers’ talent requirements is tight, thus helping employers reduce costs by shortening the time needed for new hires to reach full productivity.

Like navigation, innovations in talent management can help the industry grow. Training is job-relevant. More candidates can be trained simultaneously. Expanded capacity created by efficient talent supply chains drives growth and value by supplying reliable talent to employers.

In January WATC began market testing of its talent supply chain. Input was invited (and continues now) from a cross-section of leaders from individual employers, national industry associations, certification providers and community and technical colleges.


Responses have been overwhelmingly favorable.

  • Employers are notably enthusiastic about a third-party talent provider that could help source talent from educational institutions.
  • Educational institutions see opportunities to expand their aviation programs, offer more career pathways for students, and gain access to more industry demand for their capabilities.
  • National industry associations express interest in partnering with the new talent supply chain to help them expand their services to their members.
  • All respondents agree they would benefit with access to a national source of best practices as they work to improve their organization’s talent fulfillment capabilities.

Additional information about the NCAT Talent Supply Chain may be found at

James Hall, Dean of Aviation Technologies, Wichita Area Technical College
Tim Welsh, Executive Director – Industry Services, Wichita Area Technical College