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Human resource techniques will aid AME industry

by Frank Hofmann
Chair Aircraft Department,
John Abbott College

An Employment and Immigration Canada study of the human resources needs in the aircraft maintenance industry was presented April 8-9, 1991 at the Airport Hilton in Toronto.

The need for such a study was identified some three years ago at the National Advisory Committee to Transport Canada, attended by CEIC, ATAC, industry representatives and representatives from the various colleges across Canada offering AME training programs.

The study was started by Sypherr: Mueller and completed by Price Waterhouse, both organizations having polled at a national level in their attempt to identify the state of this industry.

The final report, titled "Human Resources in the Canadian Aircraft Maintenance Industry", is over 200 pages long and is a fair statement of who is doing what in Canada, and of what our major problems are.

The conference program consisted of a presentation Monday evening of the general findings of the report, by Terry Lister, Price Waterhouse. Following her presentation, five panelists spoke, giving their vision of the industry.

The first speaker, Terry Nord, senior VP of Canadian Airlines, gave a crystal ball view of where we will be by the year 2001 if we do not manage to work together and carve out our niche. It was not a happy prospect. He, like all others, stressed the need for teamwork by all concerned in this industry.

Ian McCaulay, president of Progress Campus Centennial College spoke about the need to tackle the whole transportation industry, through some national body.

Val Bourgeois, general vice-president, IAMAW spoke expressing doubt about current management being able to get all to work together.

Doug Dawson, director, Technical Operations Air Canada spoke optimistically about the future, providing we recognize and overcome our problems.

David Wightman, assistant deputy minister, Transport Canada, spoke about Canada's role internationally and the government's intent to interfere as little as possible with the aviation industry.

The evening then ended with a reception where, as usual, weighty issues were settled.

The morning started with a further address by Terry Lister on the Human Resource Challenges in the Aircraft Maintenance Industry. In summary, they concerned:

  1. Shortage of skilled sheet metal and structures technicians;
  2. Entry-level workers being hard to retain;
  3. Minimum entry level requirements rising, including the need to be able to solve problems;
  4. Few formal programs exist for the non-licenced skilled tradespeople. No standards for such' training currently exist;
  5. Compensation levels are low compared to other industries;
  6. Small operations are having the greatest problems attracting workers;
  7. Over the long term, growth in the industry is expected to be greatest in the repair and overhaul sector where non-licensed skills will be required.
  8. Canadian industry human resource problems will reflect those in other countries.
The attendees were then asked to join one of four workshops in the area of their interest. The workshops were:
  1. Beyond the AME: Occupational Standards for Non-Licenced Trades;
  2. Training for Aircraft Maintenance Occupations;
  3. The New Recruits: Attracting the Right People to the Industry;
  4. Strategies for Longer Term Human Resource Planning.
I had the opportunity to take part in only one of these, but judging by that, the participants were involved and enthusiastic in addressing the problems, convinced that a solution is attainable.

The luncheon speaker was Derwyn Sangster, executive director, Sectoral Skills Council, Canadian Electrical and Electronics Manufacturing Industry. He gave a very timely address, citing his industry's coming to grips with reorganization toward greater competitiveness. He explained how they set up, using a team approach with labor and management to assure worker satisfaction and continual upgrading of their workforce.

The workshop leaders then presented, in summary form, the findings of the various groups who had deliberated one of the four topics.

A suggestion, which most likely will be followed up, was that a task force be set up, composed of some of the "stakeholders" to direct the various institutions and groups at rectifying the shortcomings identified.

The study was started at industry's instigation when there was not yet a sign of a recession, and when there was a major shortage of AMEs and sheet metal workers. It is ironic that the study is published a relatively short time later, at a moment in time where there are layoffs for those same difficult-to-find people, making some of the claims' and findings of the report ring hollow.

Even so, it is clear, having come away from such a conference, that some action on the part of all concerned is required, perhaps with a view of competing better when the economy does pick up again and of not being hit as severely when the next recession hits us. We will require new management styles. We will have to count on a more productive and educated worker. We will have to seek out and then retain new sources of labor - women, immigrants, young people. We will have to have all "stakeholders" working more closely sharing and exploring each other's resources.

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Frank Hofmann
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