Opinion: Industry Facing Daunting Changes to Win Future Workforce

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Editor’s Note: I invite comments and challenges to my views. I also want to learn about concrete steps corporations are taking to create the work environment of the future. kcreedy@futureaviationaerospaceworkforce.com

Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News has been a catalyst for my personal understanding of the task before us if we are to create the future aviation/aerospace workforce.

Changes needed in the industry go far beyond just increasing numbers or the color of the faces on the line but calls for tectonic shift to how we do business and involves the most important issues facing society and business in history – social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Source: This is Engineering via Unsplash

I’ve hinted of the challenges we face before but conversations recently prompted me to connect the dots on just how daunting it is. More importantly, I think few realize what it will take to change. In fact, it j is nothing less than a total transformation of both company culture and, by extension, society. You may argue solving social issues is not our mandate, but many argue otherwise especially if your mandate is more success and profits.

“It’s a really good business strategy and it’s growing today,” said Good Business Author Bill Novelli in the AARP Bulletin, one of many articles citing his work. “The idea is you can make money for your stockholders by creating social value for customers, employees and the communities where you work. It is not just altruism.”

“The title, ‘Good Business,’ comes from corporations that combine profit with purpose and track a tiple bottom line — people, planet, profit,” said Brookings Senior Fellow George Ingram.

Studies by Harvard, Nasdaq and the World Economic Forum concur.

Recently, during a discussion for an upcoming webinar, I stated it was my belief corporations had no idea how much they must change. They must not only develop their workforce but strive for a Just Culture. The person I was talking to was taken aback. “I’ve never heard anyone, anywhere say something like that before,” he said.

“I don’t think anyone has,” I said. Leastways, not in the aviation/aerospace industry. I am sure, however, those focusing on social injustice have. All the signs are out there hitting us in the face just looking at the Social Justice movement since 2014 when Michael Brown was killed.

Source: Alex Kotliarskyi via Unsplash

You may well question why corporate America needs to address social issues and you’d be right. I’ll make that case but the fact is, by addressing social justice and enlarging the middle class, we will create a new economic boom more powerful than what was achieved after World War II. It’s good business as Novelli argues.

The question is whether we will act on those signs. The question is whether this time, 60 years after the legislative successes of the civil rights movement, will be different. Or whether we will finally achieve pay parity 60 years after it was revealed that employee value is based on gender or race. Recent coverage in USA Today shows it is more important today given Covid’s impact on women’s progress.

The question is whether we see ourselves as part of the problem if we stand by and do nothing. The question is whether corporate America sees its role in what we are facing – a powerful movement toward a Just Culture, that, if it succeeds, will be good for all of us.

Aviation/Aerospace Very Familiar with Just Culture

Wikipedia defines a Just Culture as “a concept related to systems thinking which emphasizes that mistakes are generally a product of faulty organizational cultures, rather than solely brought about by the person or persons directly involved. In a just culture, after an incident, the question asked is, ‘What went wrong?’”

Sound familiar? It should. We call it the safety culture and it is the foundation of why our industry is as safe as it is. So, we know this Just Culture works because, collectively, we’ve made it work. Now we must apply it to the rest of what we do.

One may well ask whether overhauling industry workforce practices is really necessary. Since we’ve never had a Just Culture in the workplace, the answer is yes. Instead, we’ve had military-style, antiquated work rules and failures to address systemic race and gender problems.

We should start thinking about it now as part of the package the industry is already doing – promoting aviation and aerospace careers and drilling down to youngsters with STEM and other programming. You know you haven’t achieved what you need to when, in January 2021, Captain Jenny Beatty, who like, Captain Kimberly Perkins, connects the dots between workforce issues and safety, published Halt Harassment in Aviation.

Source: SpaceX via Unsplash

She is not alone. Since launching FA/AW News in November, I’ve heard from men, women and people of color from associations to companies to military who say their bosses tout new policies for gender and racial equity but it’s just PR. They talk about how they have been harrassed, bullied and punished and how their bullies and harrassers are rewarded. There are, frankly, just too many of them to believe this is anything but inherent workplace bias.

Indeed, we’ve seen many social media campaigns highlight women’s success stories during Women in History Month, just as we saw them highlight people of color during Black History Month. While some may reflect a genuine diversity commitment, the women who have contacted me say it is only so much lip service.

These companies, they say, are violating their own human resource policies, rewarding perpetrators and punishing those who are sexually or racially abused. The #MeToo movement proved they are right. The question is whether the companies realize the solution includes them too. From my conversations with people all over the country, they do not.

This is not an aviation/aerospace problem alone, it is a societal problem and until we recognize companies as well as individuals have roles to play in reform we will never get anywhere.

Speaking Truth to Power

And it is not solely a woman’s issue. Think about it in terms of whistle blowers, such as those at Boeing who expressed concerns about its MCAS system and were marginalized. The subject was nothing so serious, but I was marginalized when I was at the FAA and dozens of readers have also felt the marginalization and gaslighting that has always been standard corporate operating procedure for those who try to speak truth to power. Think about the women of Enron who warned the company was a house of cards.

Source: Science in HD via Unsplash

Consider Dr. Harvey Wiley, who was instrumental in overhauling the food industry when he identified toxins regularly added to food more than a century ago. Both food producers and his own Department of Agriculture attacked him, but his work led to the Food & Drug Administration and it was a losing battle until women got involved. It is depicted in American Experience’s Poison Squad.

Consider Jeffrey Wigand, who brought the tobacco industry down and revealed its fake “science” in fighting curbs on tobacco.

Or, Rachel Carson, who was attacked by the insecticide industry which used more fake “science” to combat her seminal work Silent Spring on the impact of those products on wildlife and humans. Recently, studies showed PFAS chemicals – used at airports – have leeched their way into humans proving it is very much a present-day problem. Remember Flint, MI?

For the past 40 years, the same tactic has been used on climate change led by the oil, coal and gas industries who, aided and abetted by politicians, put us on the precipice of disaster few are addressing with anything more than promises about carbon neutrality.

We know the tactics companies use to fight against what they don’t want or marginalize workers who fight for the right not to be harrassed or bullied . Isn’t it time we call BS on the status quo? Certainly, society is pushing these issues to the forefront. Shouldn’t companies get out in front of it? Studies say they will reap rewards if they do.

Aviation/Aerospace at Crossroads of Societal Change

I don’t mean to make corporate America the villain here, but its record is not good and aviation/aerospace is filled with work rules and violations against their own human resource practices just as other corporations are as we’ve seen from Hollywood to NBC. We should understand that it can do so much more to achieve a Just Culture than what it has or is doing, judging from both existing conscious and unconscious bias.

In fact, aviation/aerospace are at the crossroads of these issues. The task is nothing less than looking at every work rule and determining if providing workers with more flexibility – which studies indicate is a good thing – would be good for the company. Or whether examining the treatment of those who have been sexually harrassed or bullied should be revisited.

That includes work rules for pilots who have perhaps the most intractable issues since it involves hard bargaining between labor and management. Think about the mountain we have to climb there. One only has to observe the lack of progress for women pilots despite their activism and the publicity they’ve gained on these issues to know unions are not receptive.

Without Change We Will Never Meet Workforce Goals

Why does this matter in workforce issues? It matters because we know we cannot meet our workforce numbers if we do not include under-represented populations – women, people of color, LGBTQ, mature workers and differently abled.

Source: Clayton Cardinalli via Unsplash

It matters because we are selling aviation/aerospace careers to a generation that is vastly different than baby boomers who compliantly went along with restrictive work rules. We don’t want them to enter the workforce that fails to deliver on the promises they’ve been given as they earned their careers.

We are also dealing with a generation fully aware of itself and, like the Parkland survivors, are calling BS. And we continue to deal with attitudes that says women and people of color should just be grateful to have a job.

The next generation also has options because they have an entrepreneurial streak of historic proportions. In fact, it is already happening. What do you think is happening with all those women and people of color who have been “eased out,” of their companies by one tactic or another? They have become innovative competitors.

It matters because it is bad for business since it is far more costly to recruit than retain. While aerospace’s retention record is good, millennials are testing those work rules for a better work/life balance and, given the workplace changes wrought by Covid-19, we face a changed future. More importantly, they want their work to make a difference to the company and to society. Together with their companies, they can create the Just ecosystem required.

Good for Society

Equally important is the fact creating a Just Culture is good for society and we all have a role. Think about this. The US has failed miserably in transitioning the workforce as we digitized everything from manufacturing to news. We replaced workers with robots but failed to retrain and reskill those replaced. Forty years later the social implications, I think, lead straight to the attack on the Capitol on January 6. Hyperbole? Not when you look at the impact on the middle class during that time.

I’ve been reading Bernie Sanders’ missives since the 1980s when my parents moved to Vermont, where diversity is measured in income, not color, and my father sent me Sanders’ newsletters. Sanders first alerted me to the attack on the middle class that predated trickle-down economics. The massive wealth distribution from the middle class to the rich is proof that he is right and change is needed.

The biggest issues facing society today is restoring the middle class, making it bigger and creating a Just Culture and aviation/aerospace can make that happen. We saw the results of a bigger middle class in the post-war boom in the ‘50s and 60s and we can have that again if we understand we all have a role in this. Together, we can make it happen.

Source: Science in HD via Unsplash

Today, everyone recognizes the failure to address those displaced by technology has long been part of the problem and will continue to be far into the future. That is why retraining and reskilling is now very much a part of the corporate workforce development tool box. It has also contributed to overhauling career & technical education programs that have been so successful for manufacturers and programs such as AOPA’s You Can Fly. We need more.  

From Underground to Outer Space

Think about one corner of America – West Virginia. Like much of Appalachia it is reliant on coal and we’ve never given miners an alternative, letting them fester in a forgotten no-mans-land, until now. Today Raleigh County Memorial Airport Manager Tom Cochran is transforming that economy using aviation as its steppingstone.

With the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA), Cochran laid the groundwork for the development of an aerospace industry. New River Community Technical College is fielding career & technical education and West Virginia University Institute of Technology will introduce companion programs to train workers as Aircraft Maintenance Technician (AMTS) with an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) rating to complement WVIT’s bachelors in aviation management.

That comes on the heels of a new aviation emphasis at Marshall University. Last August, Marshall broke ground on a new Marshall School of Aviation using grants to develop the Bill Noe Flight School at Yeager Airport. A Marshall grad, Noe is the president/COO of NetJets. Furthermore, Marshall, Mountwest Community and Technical College and the Robert C. Byrd Institute are in a joint venture to develop an aviation technology and maintenance program. Outer space? Not yet but it’s a start.

Think about the kids attending Vaughn College whose family incomes are in the high 30s. President Sharon DeVivo testified before Congress saying educating these kids into high-demand careers, is transforming the entire trajectory of their families.

Just Culture

So, how does corporate America create a Just Culture. We already know what we need to do because our safety culture provides the mindset. The most important thing it can do is listen. Listen to women, people of color, LGBTQ, mature workers and differently abled and make diversity, equity and inclusion a reality, not a PR campaign. Listen to millennials who want to forge a better work/life balance.

Source: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Reach out to diversity organizations to learn the hard truths only they know. Ask the workforce how work rules can change.

The industry can also examine itself. I’ve spent my entire career guided by one philosophy. You learn more from those who criticize you than from all those who pat you on the back combined. Can the industry do that? It can if it has the will.

Most importantly, look into the past to determine how the company handled workforce issues such as sexual harassment and discrimination which drives so many women and people of color from the corporate ranks. This is not about unconscious bias it is very much about so-obvious-shout-it-from-the-rooftops bias.

Create an umbrella committee on diversity, equity and inclusion with subcommittees for each of the constituencies – Blacks, Latinos, LGBTQ, Women, mature workers and differently abled. Determine their unique issues and where they have common ground and proceed accordingly. And create the metrics that will show these changes are effective and pivot if they are not.

I’ve already made the business case for creating a Just Culture. Studies have long established diversity, equity and inclusion is good for business.

One would be right to think that total transformation of society and company culture is too big. It is, but it is also something companies should be doing anyway to ensure more profits and success.

So, lets define the entire task not just increasing numbers of black, brown and female faces in the office or on the line. While some may view this as Pollyanna, I do not, and have spelled out the hard work it will take to change. I also know we will reap high rewards if we do it – an economic boom like no other.

Comments: kcreedy@futureaviationaerospaceworkforce.com

© Copyright Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News, 2021

Published by Kathryn B. Creedy

Kathryn B. Creedy is a veteran aviation journalist and communications strategist. My byline has appeared in CNN Travel, The Points Guy, BBC Capital, Los Angeles Times, Forbes Online, The Washington Post, Flyer Talk, Business Traveler, Business Travel Executive, Afar, Flightglobal, Centre for Aviation, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Low Fare & Regional Airlines, Inflight, Business Airports International, Airports, Centerlines, Regional Gateway, Runway Girl Network and Metropolitan Airport News among others. In 2018, I was cited for the Sapphire Pegasus Business Aviation Award for her work as a business aviation journalist. Created four newsletters, including two web publications Author: Time Flies - The History of SkyWest Airlines. Consistently received bonuses or commendations throughout my career. Founded Commuter/Regional Airline News, building it to become the bible of the industry. Co-founded C/R Airline News International to cover Europe. Founding editor of Aviation Today's Daily Brief, VLJ Report. Founding Senior Analyst North America for Centre for Aviation and North American Editor for Low Fare & Regional Airlines and Inflight. Key Words: Aviation, travel, business jets, commercial, aircraft, airlines, publishing, public relations, corporate communications, media specialist,

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