As our special Training and Development Guide observes, the aviation enthusiasts who tend to run the sector may struggle to understand that, nowadays, hordes of talented young people are not beating down the doors to land jobs in their industry. Recruitment is a challenge, even for exotic, glamorous and desirable jobs such as pilot, engineer or air traffic controller. And the trends are not good.
First, entertain the notion – however much a sacrilege – that aviation is no longer so glamorous. People today travel a lot, but unless they fly business- or first-class, few will relish the prospect of time spent in airports or crowded metal tubes. Even the tiny cockpit must look like an unattractive working environment. Think Richard Burton, Blake’s Tours and Night of the Iguana – not Frank Sinatra and Come Fly With Me.
As these jobs become more like video games and less like, well, flying, the competition from alternative career options looks increasingly attractive. Tom Cruise and Top Gun was a long time ago; who would join the military today to sit in a bunker monitoring a drone?
Today, air forces no longer pump out enough pilots. This is a bigger training and recruitment problem than the industry may recognise. The tail end of the cadre who retired from Cold War duty to join commercial airlines is at or near retirement age. Their numbers are dwindling, their excellent airmanship experience being lost. Young recruits are, less and less, being mentored by such classically trained flyers, who may well have provided their inspiration to enter the cockpit.
On top of all that, industry demand is soaring as airlines and airports expand to handle ever more flights.
In short, aircraft have changed, the industry has changed and the world has changed. Senior people in aviation are still of an age to remember the glamorous glory days. The young people they need to recruit, though, are a different breed, steeped in an era that teaches them to be wary and cynical. Work hard – and pay big money – to train for a job that demands very specific skills? That sounds not so much like a career that ends with a generous pension, as a recipe for being left with nowhere to go when the next technology revolution – or the whim of a cost-cutting boss on a huge salary and hefty bonus – leaves you unemployed.
Aviation still offers exciting and glamorous work, and some recruitment initiatives are showing results. But it is no good pretending that the industry faces anything short of a crisis.