1st AOPA HS Curriculum Grads, Coordination Needed with Education Programs

By Kathryn B. Creedy

With the first cohort of AOPA You Can Fly High School Aviation STEM Curriculum about to graduate in 2021, it is clear the program is making a difference in everything from school attendance to increasing the diversity of the industry.

Do you drone? Hereford High AOPA STEM program Credit: AOPA

But You Can Fly is only one of many resources available to teachers including the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and an impressive Redbird Flight Simulations program. Combined, these resources offer an impressive array in moving the needle in workforce development programs. They can also be fielded in nearly every community since these organizations leverage their vast membership networks to market their programs either in the classroom or at their airport facilities.

What is needed is not the development of more programs but the coordination of those programs into a cohesive national effort to connect the dots between education, aviation and workforce development programs.

“We say the more the merrier,” said You Can Fly Executive Director Elizabeth Tennyson of all the emerging programs geared to aviation education. “I would love for us to be more coordinated, however. We already encourage people using our program to expand their horizons and explore other programs out there. But I think we need something more formal and, frankly, more effective, in place.”

She sees this as the role for the National Center for the Advancement of Aviation (NCAA) proposed by senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Operated as a private entity and funded from the Airport & Airways Trust Fund, NCAA is intended to support the development of aviation STEM programs. More importantly, its role would be distribution of aviation/aerospace STEM programming as well as connecting the dots between education and workforce development. It would also disseminate economic and safety data as well as research and provide a forum for the cross-disciplinary collaboration needed to develop the interdisciplinary workforce of the future academicians and industry say is needed.

You Can Fly

“AOPA’s You Can Fly program is all about lowering barriers to entry,” Tennyson told Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News. “It is not just about the students, it’s also about the teachers. We want to make sure they are confident in teaching the material.” 

You Can Fly Executive Director Elizabeth Tennyson. Credit: AOPA

The AOPA curriculum is in more than 200 schools with 255 teachers overseeing 540 classes in 38 states. Having reached 8,000 students to date, You Can Fly and other programs could not be more meaningful for priming the pipeline for the future aviation/aerospace workforce.

“We reach out to educators through events like our annual High School Symposium, as well as educational conferences and events,” Tennyson explained. “We target conferences that focus on career and technical education and STEM education. We also get a lot of calls from schools, districts, and even state aviation departments who have heard about the program and are interested in bringing it into schools in their area. We regularly meet with these different groups and help them learn more about what we offer, make presentations to decision makers and show them how the curriculum aligns to their own state and local education standards.”

The High School Curriculum is designed so graduates leave high school with either a private pilot or a drone license. Entirely funded by The AOPA Foundation, the program includes professional development programs, designed to help teachers teach the curriculum more effectively, and, last summer, had 300 teachers enrolled in its virtual event.

“We also provide 20 $10,000 scholarships each year to help teachers earn a private pilot license,” said Tennyson. “That gives them first-hand experience. When they have that they light up the classroom and become role models for their students. They come away feeling confident they are making a difference with the kids.”

She explained the value of the program. “Some schools have difficulty getting kids just to show up and this program has made a huge difference,” she said. “Teachers tell us they arrive and the kids are waiting outside the classroom anxious to begin. It can be a real turning point for a youngster to discover they like school. Teachers tell us that it sounds like a party every day as the kids develop competitions and cheer each other on.”


The demographics of both schools and students are a testament to the difference You Can Fly can make. Eighty-four percent of schools are public with another 5% charter schools. Some 10% are private and another 1% from the home-schooling arena. Thirty-nine percent are in rural areas and 39% in suburban areas while 23% are in urban areas.

Key to the program is being free with The AOPA Foundation supplying everything needed along with support for teachers and the school to implement the program.

“Small districts are delighted they have access to this programming,” said Tennyson, adding a prime target audience is underserved communities. “They are able to do this without significant resources. That is important because 22% of the schools using this program are considered high-poverty schools. If you add schools that are considered mid-to-high poverty, that equals about 45%.”

Source: Unsplash

As for the kids, 56% have no previous experience with aviation. Saying only 10.6% of pilots and flight engineers were people of color, Tennyson noted nearly 50% of the students in You Can Fly are people of color. Twenty percent are female which may move the needle when it comes to the fact only 5.6% of commercial pilots are women.

This is critical since studies show that girls begin to drop out of STEM-related courses in middle school and children of color in high school. That makes AOPA’s program important as a bridge during these vulnerable years for kids who become involved at a younger age through such programs as CAP’s cadet program which starts at age 12 and EAA’s course work for younger kids.

“Teachers tell us that they capture kids in the 9th grade, and they are hooked and stay with the program,” said Tennyson. “It is opening a door and welcoming them in for the first time. We felt high school was the place to start because that is when students begin taking concrete steps for their future. If you open the door and make it accessible, a lot of students will follow because they realize aviation is fun. We can’t overlook that point when we are recruiting. It doesn’t have to be intimidating, it can be fun.”

Tennyson reported there were a lot of misconceptions about aviation. For instance, people think the only pathway is through the military or that you have to be great a math to be a pilot.

A lot of hot air. Hereford High’s AOPA You Can Fly Program. Credit: AOPA

“That is not true,” she said. “What we are offering here is a way for students to learn those misconceptions are not true. They end up building hot air balloons, wind tunnels and airfoils they then test in the wind tunnels.”

Identifying the Gap

For years, the industry has been worried about workforce shortages and in 2016, the AOPA Foundation examined the resources available to connect the dots between aviation and STEM education.

“When we started developing the program in 2016, we saw a big gap in this type of education,” said Tennyson. “There was nothing available that was comprehensive for high school age students that could be done during their school day and with which they can earn credits over four years. There were also no turnkey programs that were free. What was available, she said, were science classes using aviation-related programming or elective programs which were not for credit.

“We looked at this very carefully and discovered the majority of schools did not have the resources to prepare their students,” Tennyson continued. “They didn’t have the equipment or a qualified instructor or the lab space. So, we looked at what we could do to get aviation in the hands of the most students.”

The program also needed to ensure schools had the flexibility to fit it in whether as a four-year career & technical education program, a single course, an after-school program or as dual enrollment with partnering colleges. It is also paced to the student reflecting the need for curriculum tailored to how different students learn.

Student Pathway

Complete descriptions of each program semester are available on the You Can Fly website. The 9th grade starts with introduction to aviation, a broader brush stroke of history and careers available today including space, the military, piloting, general aviation, drones, advanced air mobility, maintenance and avionics.

“This allows students to see whatever they are interested in, there is a place for them in aviation,” she said, “In sophomore and junior years, they delve into aircraft systems, airport operations, air traffic control, communications, weather – all the things you need to be a pilot and how the system works. That is germane to any aviation career. Juniors get a deep dive into the FAA private pilot knowledge test or Part 107 for unmanned systems and in the senior year we dive into advanced topics which are a lot more career oriented. They also do a capstone project which could be a business plan, an internship or choosing a subject or a mission or designing and building a drone. One student did a business plan to create an FBO at a local airport. We provide a lot of materials and support so that projects are meaningful and to prepare them in a practical way to move ahead to college, certification or the workforce.”

Other Programs

Today, numerous programs exist. Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News recently updated its comprehensive list of education resources for aviation/aerospace and corporate workforce development programs in hopes industry and academia would connect the dots and amplify each other’s efforts.

For instance, in January, EAA launched AeroEducate, targeting age five to 18, complementing the AOPA Foundation program for older students. The idea of the free program is to connect the easy-to-use, aviation-themed activities for teachers and EAA chapters and can be used in classrooms or EAA chapter hangars. Similarly, AOPA leverages its chapters to connect the program to local schools.

AeroEducate also complements EAA’s own Young Eagles program that provides introductory flights for kids to attract them to aviation. The AeroEducate web-based resource provides age-appropriate pathways to aviation and aerospace engagement, as well as career paths.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, CAP, the US Air Force auxiliary, has 60,000 volunteer members and 1,000 squadrons nationwide. Its cadet program, for ages 12 and up, goes beyond aerospace education to developing character and physical fitness.

It also has free resources for teachers, said CAP Outreach Coordinator Susan Mallett, who joined Tennyson in speaking recently before the Women in Aviation International (WAI) Conference Aviation Educators Workshop. CAP’s curriculum is free to educators but there is a $35 CAP membership fee.

Source: Unsplash

“Our K-6 is a special program designed to help kids make connections between aerospace and education,” she said. “These are grade-level specific programs to get young students interested in aviation and aerospace. We focus on character and physical fitness because if we don’t have good people of character and integrity we are lost. We have to develop the entire child before they get into middle school and high school where they can make mistakes that can diminish their chances of pursuing aviation careers.”

At no cost to CAP’s education members, it offers sophisticated STEM Kits providing additional materials such as flight simulators or drones that schools cannot otherwise afford.

The curriculum takes in every facet of aviation including drones, VTOL, weather stations, rocketry, remote control and robotics. It also offers teacher orientation flights from pre-flight briefing to actual flying so they can see how  aviation applies to STEM concepts they are teaching.

The program, funded by USAF, has 76,000 students involved in its Aerospace Connections in Aviation (ACE) program every year. It also has an adopt-a-classroom connecting a particular squadron to a local classroom and mentoring kids move through aviation education.

“Sometimes these kids have a pretty negative experience with people in uniform,” Mallett said. “Our program helps to change that because it presents a positive role model of someone in uniform.”

Going Beyond the Sale

When Redbird Flight Simulations hired Joey Colleran nearly five years ago as its education specialist, it knew it could not just sell its low-cost, desk-top simulators and leave it at that. Without teacher orientation and hands-on guidance, it found many simulators were going unused.

“My job was to focus on the K-16 market – the high school market,” Colleran told WAI attendees. “What I quickly learned was a lot of customers had a grant and their solution was to buy our simulators. But they weren’t pilots and didn’t have a lot of knowledge and resources. I began to figure out free resources for them and ended up developing free curriculum to accompany the simulators. That included flight missions and other lessons related to their math and science curriculum.” 

Women in Aviation Girls in Aviation Day. Credit: Kathryn B. Creedy

Colleran added the company also wanted to ensure they were exposing as many as possible to aviation opportunities and created a traveling STEM lab which it plans to relaunch once Covid is in the rear-view mirror. It is familiar to WAI attendees since it is a central part of its Girls in Aviation Day which wraps up its annual conference.

“We take it to schools and different organizations to recruit kids to take free classes taught by our director of STEM education,” she explained. “It helps parents and students become aware of aviation opportunities.”

Like AOPA, it identified a need for professional development for teachers and created an educating-the-educators program online or in person to illustrate how to incorporate aviation into STEM.

Government Resources

The FAA has its own offerings in its Aviation and Space Education (AvSed) program for teachers bolstered by 1,700 volunteer employees and, like EAA, AOPA and CAP, offering local resources nationwide and on the web.

Its Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy provides unique summer aviation education programs for elementary, middle and high school students and reaches between 1,500 and 2,000 students each summer. The program, which includes lessons in flight planning, history and flight physics, provides students with a wide range of aviation career exploration experiences and also focuses on STEM. Other subjects cover aircraft design and maintenance, flight simulations and introductory flights on some occasions. It also offers field trips to aviation-related sites.

“Our volunteers cover all walks of aviation and space experience and they love to share that in the classroom and help with curriculum in flying or space,” Christina Drouet, manager of the FAA’s Aviation Workforce and Education Division told the WAI audience.

Like Redbird, Collins Aerospace and others, Indiana-based Republic Airways has its own traveling lab to bring aviation to those who would normally not even think about it. The airline, a pioneer in bringing aviation to the underserved, has been struggling for years with the pilot shortage and finally decided to set up Lift, its own flight academy, for ab initio training. More recently, the dearth of aviation maintenance technicians, prompted it begin work on adding that to the curriculum.

Why Aviation & STEM?

Credit: Airbus

“Aviation is really cool,” Tennyson added during the WAI Aviation Education session. “You cannot find a more engaging subject for students. Students who think they don’t like math and science do like airplanes and they make the connection. US News & World Report identified piloting as number 26 in the top 100 careers in the future. In addition, there are all kinds of emerging careers such as commercial space, unmanned systems and drones and we don’t even know the potential for those yet. You will see the reward in your classroom. An engaged student makes your job so much easier.” 

Drouet agreed. “Emerging technologies are a big unknown,” she said. “To show the interest, today, the number of conventional aircraft in the US is about 300,000 but since we began registering drones a few years ago we have two million registered. To me, that is symbolic of how these emerging technologies will keep growing and why we need kids to think about these careers now. It’s exciting and there is so much opportunity.”

Because aviation and aerospace are awesome, Colleran added. “It’s important to have aviation in the curriculum because it’s the future,” she said. “The one important thing for educators to understand is how many free resources there are including the thousands of people in aviation and aerospace who want to help teachers in the classroom. When you bring aerospace in the classroom, you have so many resources at your fingertips.”

Credit: Joby Aviation

Next Steps

Tennyson wants more people involved. “That is why we support the NCAA,” she said. “All the stakeholders need to be at the same table to work together on these issues, identify the gaps that may still exist and fill them in a cohesive way. Ultimately, these are workforce issues as well as education and working together we will be creating the workforce of the future. Awareness is a huge part of it. You can’t create something successful if people are not aware of the opportunities and the needs in the industry.”

Creating an over-arching, industry-wide strategic plan is probably the biggest hurdle industry must overcome besides funding.  You Can Fly is completely funded by The AOPA Foundation but to amplify it and get it into more schools, more funding is needed; likewise for all the other programs.

“Curriculum development is an intense and costly undertaking,” Tennyson explained. “We created a turnkey program of lesson plans, presentations, student activities, teacher notes and unit tests and we have been able to do that through the generosity of our donors. But we also must continuously update and maintain the curriculum and activities as rules and technology changes. We must stay on top of that and adjust and that requires a lot of support for schools. We must contend with high teacher turnover and need more professional development and support during the year. Schools may need help developing the data so there is a lot of hands-on support that goes into every school we work with. To expand, we’d have to provide that same level of support. This is one of our greatest challenges – making sure teachers have the right skills, material and support. For all those reasons, we need something that is formalized. We need support on a broad basis in order to support the great programs out there.”

Cue the Legislators

Having introduced the National Center for the Advancement of Aviation (NCAA), the industry now needs to leverage members to make it a reality just as Aviation Technical Education Council did with transforming Part 147 and Aeronautical Repair Station Association did with the creation of annual $10 million in education grants designed to promote pilot, engineering and aviation maintenance careers.

Then the only remaining hurdle is a formalized approach to alerting parents and students solid programming exists and can be implemented in their local community for free; programming that leads to high-pay, high-value careers. This is no small task but with the advent of the Youth Access to American Jobs in Aviation Task Force and the Women in Aviation Advisory Board it is clear the industry is now working together which makes the task that much easier.

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

How Industry, Unions Hurt Women Pilot Recruitment & Retention — Part II

Key Changes Needed to Increase Women Pilots

Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for LinkedIn in 2016.

As explained in Part I, entrenched work rules – including seniority and failure to establish better work/life balance policies – are key reasons why so few women are flying the line. Equally important is the fact it has been known for years changes are wanted by pilots of both genders indicating both industry and unions represent significant barriers to change.  Indeed, airlines are behind other industries in promoting women into management.

Special Treatment Counterproductive

Credit: Shutterstock

Women pilots are not asking for special treatment and, in fact, say that is the worst thing that could happen. Rather, they are seeking sensible changes to outdated work rules that have remained in place for 70+ years. They are frustrated by work rules changes for other women in the airline workforce, but not for pilots.

They are fighting for policies that will help all pilots achieve better balance while benefiting the company bottom line.

In fact, their arguments reveal a business-based approach. “Allowing a pilot to have six months maternity/paternity leave is more cost effective than trying to replace that pilot with a new hire,” said Captain A. “The recruiting and training costs alone would cost the airline more than if they had a female pilot on maternity leave. If not, she either has to return to work or quit and some have quit.”

Tellingly, she noted that at her airline more male pilots are out on medical and military leaves than female pilots out on maternity leave. With the numbers, that is to be expected but it puts women’s accommodations into context with those required for men.

“With the shift in family dynamics, family issues are a concern for both male and female pilots,” said Captain A. “More male pilots are interested in being an active parent in their children’s lives. Dads have missed the birth of their child. We want a policy accommodating taking time off to be there.”

Captain H agrees. “Today’s generation expects to have a career and a family and expect companies to accommodate that.”

Corporate America is changing, however slowly. A reflection of how important such issues are, is the growing number of companies – 14%, according to National Partnership for Women & Families – are offering paid leave. Meanwhile, US HR policies are woefully behind their global competitors.

Biological Challenges

Restrictive maternity and return-to-work policies are cited as one of the major reasons the industry loses women pilots and why it is fighting a losing battle to attract more. 

In 2016, The New York Times published When the Captain is Mom: Accommodating New Motherhood at 30,000 feet chronicling the problems new mothers have balancing life and careers including challenges expressing milk where the default venue is the bathroom. 

An alternative is Momavia, a private structure being deployed by airports to accommodate nursing passengers.

Accommodating Work/Life Balance

The most successful regional airline in the US has addressed these issues head on and found benefits.

SkyWest Pilots’ Women’s Assistance Committee was founded by Captain A and her colleague First Officer L and supported by both male and female pilots. The two pilots were joined by a host of volunteers to develop a handbook, since adopted by both the airline and the pilots association, to attract and retain women pilots.

Indeed, Captain A said retention was a huge part of the reason for their efforts. “We’ve had pilots quit because they couldn’t get an extension on their unpaid maternity leave and that is not good for anyone after an airline has invested in training that pilot,” she said. “By educating them we show young female pilots that being a mom and a pilot is possible and already a reality for many here.”

The committee speaks to each new-hire class which also raises the consciousness of male colleagues. It also created the first female mentoring committee in the US airline industry.

The handbook discusses all the issues surrounding starting a family, including planning a family, insurance, returning to work and tips on pumping on the road. It also covers scheduling techniques to be home more or nurse better along with sections on childcare. There are also articles on post-partum depression and exposure to radiation while pregnant.

“We wanted to address the issues women may face head on because they need to plan if they want a family,” said Captain A. “It was a shock when I went on maternity leave and lost my insurance. That never occurred to me. I was able to go on my husband’s but still you lose your paycheck and your insurance. So, planning has to start a year ahead to have disability insurance in place.”

The new policies forged by the handbook allow 12 months unpaid post-birth leave. But treating maternity as a disability is a problem. Losing insurance and unpaid leave are major issues.

“Male pilots are grateful for our committee,” said Captain A. “I had a captain call me for guidance after his co-pilot excused herself to express milk. He wanted to make sure he was doing the right thing and asked advice on how he could help her. That shows me our male pilots care.”

Captain C agreed. “Without an accommodation for breastfeeding, we have few choices and that’s bad for pilots and airlines. Some women quit, some take unpaid leave if available, and some make do by pumping in the lav. I see the only solution for airlines to accommodate breast-feeding is to provide alternatives to flying, such as paid/unpaid leave or job sharing.”

Retired Captain Kathryn McCullough took a ground job when she started a family. “I loved working in the simulator or office while I was pregnant,” she said. “The airline invests an exorbitant amount of money in every pilot. It can’t afford to lose any pilot mid-career. Pilots should also be able to take assignments on the ground.”

Systemic Whitewashing

Perkins, a pilot for more than 15 years, explained sympathetic men are part of the problem because of the large number of men who make the flight deck a tough place for women. Her realization of the problem came when she keyed the mike to communicate with ATC. In return, she heard a pilot on another aircraft say, “another empty kitchen.” It wasn’t the last time she heard it, either. Think about that. Perkins first piloting job was at Air Wisconsin starting in 2006, meaning such comments are part of the 21st Century mindset of male pilots. And it gets worse.

“Sixty four percent of male pilots say pushing for equity on the flight deck is not their responsibility,” said Perkins in a 2020 study, identifying the most significant problem women face. “Only 16% are actively doing something to make a positive change while 20% want to help but don’t know how. When I share stories of being called a ‘token’ or having someone say ‘empty kitchen,’ they are shocked and immediately attempt to discredit the occurrence.”

She called this systemic whitewashing. “One cannot be part of the solution without acknowledging the problem,” she said. “A chasm exists between our worlds. It is time we build a bridge. Ignorance is no longer tolerable. Rarely is a social injustice effectively addressed without assistance from the majority. We need men to stop justifying the behavior of their sexist colleagues and start defending the disenfranchised.”

Unions Part of the Problem

Normally pilots would turn to the union to make changes, but unions are part of the problem.

“The company is going to want something in return and unions don’t want to spend political or negotiating capital on this issue,” McCullough explained. “They see women pilots as a small minority. ALPA has been one of the worst offenders because the majority of dues come from men. I think management is using the union as a reason they can’t enact common sense policies.” 

ALPA is fully aware of work/life issues since, until 2018, it rejected efforts of women pilots and even fired the captain pushing for change.

But a survey showing men wanted the same changes to work rules forced a change of heart. Sadly, the signal it sent was clear, women’s concerns are not worthy on their own and, by resisting change, ALPA was out of step with the majority of its membership.  

According to ALPA’s survey, the issues women raise are much the same as their male counterparts. In a significant departure from previous generations, millennial employees now worry as much about quality of life as they do about pay, requiring a seismic shift in corporate and union policies.

Captain Kimberly Perkins. Source: Captain Perkins

Work/Life Balance Met with Intransigence, Not Solutions

“While discussing work/life balance with my manager in a previous position, I explained the importance of attending my daughter’s recital,” Perkins recalled. “In an exhausted huff and a twinge of annoyance, my manager said, ‘You chose to be a pilot, which means you’ll miss things.’ I pondered that response for weeks. I’m sure many pilots have heard similar rhetoric.”

The manager’s attitude was wrong. “The statement promotes the notion that pilots cannot have a good work/life balance,” she said. “It provides no solution and is apathetic in nature. Throwing one’s hands up and saying, ‘it is what it is’ is the equivalent of throwing in the towel on developing a solution. I refuse to accept that one must choose a career of flying or having a family life.”

It also fails to put such requests into context with the performance-based metrics emerging as part of efforts to gain both efficiency and improved safety. For any such request, managers should ask whether this pilot is a gold brick or a valued employee. The impact goes beyond gender and incorporates often ignored issues such as harassment or other discriminatory practices in the workplace. Evaluating the who of a complaint or a request is key to establishing equity.

“Flexibility is the key on leave policies – and listening – because every situation is different,” McCullough explained.

Talk Is Cheap

Credit: Shutterstock

Airlines and unions also need to be familiar with the impact of a lack of diversity to the bottom line. All these issues come into play no matter who is requesting time off.

Judging from its website, little has changed at ALPA despite its survey calling for better work/life balance. It seems as if ALPA is trolling for members by talking a good game but its actions speak louder than its words. For instance, it does not list Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) among its top advocacy priorities. Nor is it mentioned in its Future of the Pilot Profession material.

Indeed, its presentation at the 2020 Women in Aviation International (WAI) conference, the first attended by the president of the union, called the issues raised by women pilots “misinformation.” Equally important, ALPA’s overall message was clear – no changes needed.

“Female pilots face unique challenges and often receive misinformation about how to strike a work-life balance,” the union said on its website on the session. “[Pilots] provided real-life examples of how they’re successfully balancing family obligations and enjoying a career they’re passionate about.”

On the panel, FedEx First Officer Kandy Bernskoetter said: “Women can have it all – a successful flying career and a family if that’s what they choose. While there are certainly some challenges that need to be addressed, the career offers many opportunities not available to those who work a regular 9–5, Monday–Friday job. Having the support of a partner, family and the community helps to create a positive synergy between a pilot’s personal life and their professional one.”

Even Bernskoetter acknowledged challenges need to be addressed. Her discussion of supportive partners is as problematic for pilots as it is for any other employee in society and ignores a major societal shift. The fact is today’s economy has working couples and women working outside the home is not a choice but a necessity. Beyond that, it completely ignores the needs of those who do not have these support systems.

“When compared to aviation dads, pilot moms overwhelmingly have working partners, which means no stay-at-home parent,” said Perkins. “Studies from MIT and a variety of think tanks show that diverse groups make better decisions and are more productive. It is not about lowering standards; it is about removing obstacles that hinder others from joining the process.”

Source, ediTT = Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Think Tank

DE&I and Safety

Last summer’s social justice protests, caused ALPA to take stance.

“While the airline pilot profession today is not yet fully representative of the diverse population we proudly serve, ALPA is committed to change, and we are working to create a just and inclusive airline pilot culture,” said ALPA President Joe DePete. “We must make certain all individuals – regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation – find the piloting profession inspiring and accessible. I established the President’s Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, led by JetBlue First Officer Camila Turrieta to advance this work. Our committee strives to demonstrate inclusivity and educate under-represented communities about the career opportunities our profession offers. There is simply no place in our profession –or in our world – for discrimination of any kind.”

But that begs a serious question. If it were actually doing what DePete says, would the National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA) or the International Association of Women Airline Pilots (ISA+21) even exist? While these are not bargaining units, they do reflect a failure to address their needs by legacy unions.

Remember, as we learned in Part I, economists say organizations must make DE&I and social justice more than a marketing campaign.

Interestingly, A:PA cited safety on why fighting discrimination is important during the NGPA conference, an argument Perkins has made for several years in many industry publications.

“Any form of discrimination or prejudice can cause a communication breakdown that can trigger a degradation of operational safety,” said United First Officer Richard Swindell, chair of ALPA’s Professional Development Group in observing increasing diversity of airline pilots. “As an association, we must acknowledge and understand corporate and flight deck demographic changes, as well as our own membership cultural changes. It’s important to understand what these changes mean to our industry, our profession and our union. When you sit in the cockpit, we’re all wearing the same uniform as a professional pilot. If you have an issue, we’ll address it just like we would for anyone else.”

But does it? Actions speak louder than words and ALPA’s record is not good when it comes to diversity as reflected in its treatment of women’s issues.

Lutte’s Recommendations

The fact of the matter is airlines no longer have a choice if they are to remain competitive in the workforce. Rebecca Lutte outlined a pathway for change which applies equally to women and other minority constituencies, including people of color and LGBTQ. But, as she said, it starts at the top.

  • Start with organization CEOs, Chairs and Board members in individual discussions on their understanding of inclusion and the impact on representation.
  • Understand how this features in the bigger picture of organizational performance and facilitate alignment of passion and vision for future outcomes. Agree on a routine of conversation several times per year to reflect, observe, and revisit.
  • Investment not tokenism. Agree how inclusion and representation can be measured and incorporated into organizational performance measures. Introduce an immediate program, inviting colleagues throughout the organization to build inclusion into their role and focus to determine awareness and appetite.
  • Identify an organization champion who will build the community of inclusion leads throughout the organization and be supported, recognized, and rewarded as a longer-term plan is developed.
  • Plan an organization design review to understand how roles can be restructured to accommodate inclusion review and recommendations.
  • Launch a working group to understand a sustainable long-term approach to measurement within signatory organizations and how to resource the central collation and reporting of the information.
  • Don’t be a ‘one hit wonder.’ Build on the individual discussions to ensure commitment to long term change and what it will take as well as the longer-term vision.
  • Agree how best to start sending practical messages immediately about what can be done to drive inclusion and gender balance.
  • Adopt people practices including performance, talent, engagement and reward to identify gaps or available options to build a sustainable change platform.
  • Identify a passionate, accountable executives responsible for the success of the program to support and advise on the long-term change program who can influence stakeholders and dedicate time to galvanize support.

Women pilots have eloquently defined the problems encountered by the pilot corps and not restricted themselves to their own interest but accommodated the interests of their male counterparts and their companies. Consequently, we know, as we have long known, the remiediation required although the political will to make these change does not now exist. We also have solid recommendations from many quarters on how companies must change and it only remains for them — and unions — to start the hard work necessary.

The problem is companies and unions often respond to women and other minorities with how they have to change. That is dangerous and passes the buck. It is the system that has to change, period.

How Airlines, Unions Hurt Women Pilot Recruitment & Retention Part 1

How Industry, Unions Hurt Women Pilot Recruitment & Retention — Part I

Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for LinkedIn in 2016. Some of the active-duty pilots interviewed for this article were reticent to be identified because they may face negative repercussions from their airlines or unions.

By Kathryn B. Creedy

The heroic save of Southwest 1380 by Captain Tammie Jo Shults after an uncontained engine failure brought women pilots into focus, prompting many to wonder why there are so few. Clearly, women have the right stuff.

Defining the problem is simple – societal attitudes toward women and industry failure to address these attitudes. Equally important, is the fact that the job itself is a deterrent given work rules forged 70 or more years ago despite work rule changes afforded other work groups. Industry and unions shoulder much of the blame having lacked the political will to accommodate changing workforce needs, not just for women but for the entire pilot corps.

Societal Attitudes

Most wouldn’t think societal attitudes a problem but a recent study reveals otherwise, showing pilots who do not meet the white male stereotype less trustworthy. This is very troubling and shocking.

Despite Schultz’s performance, around 51% of those questioned by Sunshine.co.uk, the online travel agent, said they were less likely to trust a female pilot, according to a 2021 Daily Telegraph article. Just 14% said they would feel safer with a woman at the controls, while a quarter said the pilot gender did not matter and 9% said they were unsure.

“Of those who said they would rather have a male pilot,” concluded the study. “32% said they believed ‘male pilots are more skilled,’ while 28% questioned the ability of female pilots to handle pressure.”

Tell that to Schultz and any number of combat pilots.

The fact is the industry is reaping the rewards of centuries of convincing the world women are inferior. They must now undo the damage and convince the world women are equal to the job, whatever job that is, because they have proven themselves to be. 

Comparisons between US airlines and those around the world paint a dismal picture. India leads the world with 12.4% of its pilot corps being women compared to about 5.6% in the US. Ireland and South Africa each have about 9%.

Source: International Association of Women Airline Pilots (ISA+21)

Safety is at Issue

Everyone knows crew resource management (CRM) is a key ingredient in safety. But the current dynamic threatens safety, argues Captain Kimberly Perkins, putting an urgent spin on the entire issue. (Safety will be covered in Part II).

Having Schultz and others as role models is great but as industry continues to wring its hands about the dearth of women pilots, unions and airlines must look to themselves as the problem. Not having kept pace with the changing workforce, they failed to make improvements necessary to attract and retain pilots of either gender.

Since work rules were established more women have entered the workforce and labor demands for a better work/life balance became critical issues for society. Without wholesale reform, airline and union barriers remain a top challenge. (Unions will be discussed in Part II)

Seeing the progress made in other fields indicates something is really wrong that 33% of astronauts are women, according to the International Association of Airline Pilots (ISA+21) and women pilots make up only 5% of the global pilot corps. ISA+21 represents over 600 members representing 90 airlines in 35 countries.

“Sixty years ago, other fields including medicine, law, business and engineering were male industries,” said Captain C. “Today, they’ve had steady increases of women in leadership, while the airlines have been stagnant for decades. We can do the same in the aviation industry by improving family policies, increasing outreach to young women and encouraging leadership participation.”

Female CEOs represent 19% of total Aerospace & Defense CEOs in the US, according to a study Soaring Through the Glass Ceiling: Taking the Global Aviation and Aerospace Industry to New Heights Through Diversity & Inclusion sponsored by the International Aviation Women’s Association and executed by Korn Ferry. While this is well ahead of female CEOS across all industry at 5%, only 3% of airlines have women CEOs said the report. Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News compiled the first list of women executives in aviation and aerospace.

In the US, according to studies by Captain Perkins, pre-Covid, women represented 46% of the total US labor force; but, a mere 5.6% in the pilot workforce with only 2% captains. The fact the needle moved so little since Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo became the first woman to fly for a US commercial airline in 1973, reflects the task ahead.

“Women are drastically underrepresented in aviation – a situation that has not improved over time like other STEM fields,” said Perkins. “The reason lies in small fragments of a much larger cultural issue [that prevents the airline industry from effectively recruiting more women pilots].”

Source: ediTT = Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Think Tank

Airlines Benefit from Changing Work Policies

What is interesting about what women pilots seek is the fact it is also good for the bottom line in that it increases retention and avoids the high cost of hiring and training. More importantly numerous studies show how diversity is important to the bottom line.

“Consumers and employees are now looking for more than Corporate Social Responsibility,” a recent Harvard Business Review  (HBR) reported. “They’re looking for Corporate Social Justice. Consumers and other stakeholders want companies that see social good as a necessity, not just a marketing strategy. It’s up to companies to respond to this new challenge. Research shows companies with effective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are more profitable than those that aren’t.”

The World Economic Forum agrees, saying diversity and sustainability are key parts of, not only consumer, but investor strategy. Consumers will pay a premium to companies echoing their values, according to recent studies showing sustainability, and now, social justice, drive premium results. The Carlysle Group found companies with higher diversity have nearly 12% more earnings growth per year than the average company that lacked diversity, according to Nasdaq.

Workplace Culture is the Problem

Perkins rejects the notion this is a pipeline problem. “While there certainly are fewer women training to be pilots, women also face gender-unique social pressures, double standards and systemic barriers that deter their entrance into aviation,” she said.

In a report released by Women in Aviation International, Associate Professor for the University of Nebraska Aviation Institute Dr. Rebecca Lutte, detailed how women viewed aviation/aerospace. The report Women in Aviation: A Workforce Report, is extremely important since these perceptions constitute a considerable barriers to diversifying the workforce.

  • Women perceived aviation to be an adventurous, fun career.
  • They saw it as a way to prove their personal abilities.
  • They saw it as a challenging career.
  • But they also perceived it as a good-ole-boy network.

What is remarkable in the 21st Century, their perceptions remain true although women aviation maintenance technicians report enthusiastic mentoring from male colleagues and cite the rise of women to maintenance operations management at United, which also leads US airlines in women pilots, and Alaska.

“The results indicate that workplace culture, described as good-ole-boy network, is still a deterrent to the ability to recruit and retain women in aviation,” said Lutte in her report.

“In a 2019 study, 24% of career female pilots said bias and discrimination was the number one reason the industry can’t recruit women,” Perkins added. “A second study shows a perceived negative culture was the second biggest deterrent for young girls considering a career in aviation (behind costs). Twenty seven percent of women pilots surveyed said ending bias and discrimination was the most important factor in retaining women in the industry (behind schedule predictability).”

While one could argue the numbers represent small minorities, they cannot be discounted since the industry needs to tap every under-represented group in order to populate its workforce. Listening to these women provides important clues to the significant barriers that sometimes force them to quit. They cite the lack of women in airline operations management. This is changing given the appointment of women to key operations posts in aviation maintenance, although women continue to be sorely lacking in pilot and flight operations management.

Antiquated Work Rules

Interestingly, Air India leads the world in the number of women pilots. The question is what is it doing that more industrialized nations are not?

Women pilots cite the inexplicable resistance to changing work rules to reflect what flight attendants have had for years, saying it hampers recruitment. They also cite unsuccessful efforts to gain accommodations for biological differences which, if ignored, risk serious health complications.

“It’s hard because of the nature of the job,” Retired Delta Captain Kathryn McCullough said. “Young women who want families believe that being a pilot means too much time away from home but look at the thousands of flight attendants who are mothers. The difference is, their work rules have more flexibility like job sharing, better leave options and shorter schedules.”

The difference also show that for airlines and unions it is all about the numbers, not equity.

Perkins reported that ignoring soft issues is also to blame. “Soft issues are human issues,” she explained, noting they affect both men and women pilots. “They can include morale at the office, interpersonal relationships, the ability to approach management, a good work/life balance, sense of worth in the work product and the nebulous feeling of happiness at work. Soft issues are harder to measure quantitatively since they are subjective, yet they play a significantly important qualitative role in determining where people want to work. The answer to the why-are-there-so-few-female-pilots question lives in this piece of the pie. It is time we address the problems here in the hope of sweetening that slice.” 

Perkins pointed to the implicit bias that women are meant to give up their careers in order to become the primary caregiver for children. “Implicit biases are more harmful to gender equality because they are insidious, more prevalent and seemingly socially acceptable,” she explained. “They perpetuate age-old stigmas and stereotypes that women have been fighting against for years.” 

Covid put women’s issues front and center because so many have left the workforce because their caregiving burden is so much higher than for men.

Numerous press reports showed women accounted for half the 10 million jobs lost to Covid-19 while accounting for less than half the workforce, according to the US Department of Labor. More than 2.5 million women left the labor force between February 2020 and January of this year, compared to 1.8 million men, prompting Vice President Kamala Harris to call it a national emergency.

Seniority Seen as Barrier

Seniority which governs a pilot’s entire career is also seen as a barrier, making this an economic equity issue while revealing how deep the issues extend. Key to the flexible schedule needed by working parents, it means remaining in a lower paid position on smaller aircraft, holding women back from pursuing career goals such as larger aircraft which pay better. When a pilot moves up, they lose both seniority and the flexibility they need.

“It’s a huge trade-off between seniority and money,” Captain H said, “and a very difficult balancing act.”

It is certainly a barrier to equality, said Perkins who reported in 2020 women are three times more likely to bypass a captain upgrade because it would reduce schedule predictability.

How Industry, Unions Hurt Women Pilot Recruitment & Retention — Part II

Failure to Build the Workforce is Bad for Business – Part I

Establishing Baseline Workforce Needs: Aviation/Aerospace & Defense Manufacturing

By Kathryn B. Creedy

  • Manufacturing needs 3.5M workers just for A&D by 2026
  • Global shortage tops 80M by 2030
  • Automation will not solve the problem
  • Many industry segments don’t tally future needs
  • Cost of taking no action in billions of dollars

It is difficult to pin down the actual number of workers needed for the different segments of the aviation/aerospace industry because some segments of the industry simply do not track future workforce requirements. Complicating this is the fact many reports are years old, compounding the confusion from different studies telling us different things.

For instance, Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) assesses the state of the workforce annually in partnership with the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA) and Aviation Week & Space Technology (AvWeek). However, it does its workforce projections only periodically, with the last published in 2017. On the other hand, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) does not track future workforce needs and the AIA/AIAA projections do not include GAMA needs.

That leaves us without concrete goals since we don’t know how many people will be needed or how many we need to move from not knowing what they want to do to aviation/aerospace.

For that reason, Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News (FA/AW News) is launching a series examining each industry sector to tally both current employees and, if it is available, establish a baseline of industry workforce needs by sector – airlines, airports and government, etc – to reveal information gaps in workforce development.

The series will also be looking at the skills future aviation/aerospace workers. While some information may not be new, it is an important reminder of the urgency required for the task ahead.

One Playbook

One of the many information gaps is a unified source of all the information needed to develop a remediation plan. This series will get the industry working from the same information and hopefully in unison rather than in the current silos. What is needed are tools to give industry the wherewithal to compete with Silicon Valley and build the business case for dramatic reform.

Those studies and the economic impact statements from aviation/aerospace groups clearly chronicle what will happen if we don’t get our workforce act together not only in loss of global corporate and technological competitiveness, innovation, economic strength and untold billions in lost revenues, but in the loss of our strategic defense and security readiness. The conclusion is universal, failure to build the workforce needed is bad for business and increasing automation will not make a difference.

Manufacturing by the Numbers

FA/AW News’ series starts with manufacturing covering Aerospace Industries Association and General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

In a 2017 report (latest available), The Defining Workforce Challenge in US Aerospace & Defense STEM Education, Training, Recruitment & Retention, AIA reported members predicted 3.5 million jobs will need to be filled by 2026. Alarmingly, it said a skills gap is expected to prevent 2.0 million of those jobs from being filled. From top to bottom the industry tells educators it wants employees prepared to hit the ground running without costly training programs.

The United States alone could miss out on $1.748 trillion in revenue due to labor shortages, or roughly 6% of its entire economy.”

Korn Ferry: the global talent crunch

AIA’s report normally tallied the total workforce at 2.4 million but, with this report redefined workers, limiting them to those who design, build and sustain systems and platforms because it more closely mirrors the codes used by the Labor Department. In the 2017 report, the industry employed 849,000.  

Add to that the numbers from General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), which reported in its 2019 Data Book, the industry employed 273,500 full- and part-time workers in 2018.

The study, done in coordination with the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Helicopter Association International (HAI), National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), said general aviation also generated $77 billion in labor income (including wages and salaries and benefits as well as proprietors’ income) and contributed $128 billion to US gross domestic product (GDP).

What About Covid?

Source: Clayton Cardinalli via Unsplash

To be frank, Covid makes all these numbers a crapshoot. AvWeek’s 2020 Workforce Study study showed 75,000 new hires in 2019 but 115,000 employee losses by mid-2020. We can take little comfort in Covid’s mitigating some shortages. They are temporary and accelerated retirements will make them more acute once demand returns.

AIA members were hiring, according to its 2020 Facts & Figures US Aerospace & Defense covering 2019 which showed the workforce grew by 4.8% (1.4% of the US total workforce). It boasted average wages and benefits grew by a whopping 46% to $102,900, higher than the national average. It pointed out the high wages were supported by a 6.8% increase in industry sales revenue.

The consequences of workforce shortages are stark, according to the AIA’s report concluding shortages could cost the industry a staggering $49 billion just from positions remaining unfilled.

These foregone business opportunities tally with the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) study showing, pre-Covid, workforce shortages cost the maintenance, repair and overhaul industry $1.4 billion annually.

AIA described the impact of shortages. “82% of U.S. manufacturers across all industries say talent shortages will have a moderate or extreme impact on production levels to meet growing customer demand,” said the 2017 report. “To compensate, forced overtime is often imposed, resulting in average annual working hours that are 17% more than in all other industries. The losses caused by this shortage are real – up to $3,000 per existing employee, and an average of $14,000 per open position, by some estimates. Thirty nine percent of companies predict an extreme impact on business growth, from labor shortages, not just of senior-level engineers but a shortage of skilled technical workers versed in technology fundamentals.”

This global skills shortage could result in $8.452 trillion in unrealized annual revenue by 2030—equivalent to the combined GDP of Germany and Japan. A global talent crisis could cost nations trillions of dollars in unrealized annual revenues.”

korn Ferry global Talent Cruch

The Global Problem

It is important to put AIA’s US numbers into context. According to a Korn Ferry Future of Work: The Global Talent Crunch report shortages will result in a talent deficit of 85.2 million workers worldwide by 2030 in three major areas –technology/communications/media, finance and manufacturing. It predicts a massive shift in industrial development overseas – specifically to India.

Source: Korn Ferry, The Global Talent Crunch.

“By 2030, all countries except India face deficits in highly skilled labor in the sector. By 2030, Brazil could suffer manufacturing worker deficits of 1.7 million, while Indonesia could see worker shortages reach 1.6 million. In the United States the deficit is expected to increase over the next decade, reaching a 2030 shortfall of 383,000 such workers, equivalent to more than 10% of the highly skilled workforce. Japan, the No. 3 manufacturing economy, could fail to realize $194.61 billion by 2030 due to severe labor shortages in this sector, the highest amount of any country analyzed, representing 3% of the country’s entire economy.

Source: Korn Ferry, The Global Talent Crunch.

But A&D can’t send its work offshore since defense-related contracts require US citizens with security clearance.

In manufacturing, Korn Ferry said, “The shortfall of Level A workers could equal 21% of the highly skilled workforce of the 20 countries in our study. India is the only country analyzed that can expect a talent surplus, driven by a burgeoning working-age population. This global skills shortage could result in $8.452 trillion in unrealized annual revenue by 2030—equivalent to the combined GDP of Germany and Japan. A global talent crisis could cost nations trillions of dollars in unrealized annual revenues.”

Source: Korn Ferry, The Global Talent Crunch.

“The talent crunch – an imminent skilled labor shortage affecting both developed and developing economies – could ultimately shift the global balance of economic power by 2030 if left unaddressed,” Korn Ferry said. “The United States alone could miss out on $1.748 trillion in revenue due to labor shortages, or roughly 6% of its entire economy.”

Source: Korn Ferry, The Global Talent Crunch.

Automation Will Not Solve Workforce Problems

Manufacturers hoping technology such as robotics will dig us out of the problem will be disappointed.

“Innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning are driving automation, and the people-tech partnership promises enhanced productivity across every industry,” Korn Ferry reported. “But in a separate 2016 study, Korn Ferry found traditional firms already struggle to find the digital talent they need to keep up with customer demand and transform to more digital operating models.

“While 67% of CEOs believe technology will be their chief value generator in the future of work, they cannot discount the value of human capital. Even companies using more robotics foresee a growing need for human talent with advanced skills for example, redeploying people from the factory floor, where robots can perform repetitive work, to the research laboratory,” Korn Ferry’s Great Talent Crunch study continued. “The problem, however, is the mismatch between technological advances, including automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning, and the skills and experience workers need to leverage these advanced tools. Technology cannot deliver the promised productivity gains if there are not enough human workers with the right skills. What we found is that global growth, demographic trends, underskilled workforces, and tightening immigration mean that even significant productivity leaps enabled by technological advances will be insufficient to prevent the talent crunch.”

Manufacturing Needs Rebranding

Source: Laurel & Michael Evans via Unsplash

FA/AW News reported on the hundreds of programs designed to attract more people to the industry and to increase STEM literacy beginning in Pre-K. Coupled with annual federal appropriations for STEM education, typically in the range of $2.8 billion to $3.4 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report, we shouldn’t have a problem attracting talent.

But AIA cited the erroneous but popular image of manufacturing as “dirty and dangerous.” It is equally about competition.

“Today more than ever, aerospace and defense recruiters compete for talent among candidates who also have skills highly-coveted in Silicon Valley,” said the organization, citing the Aviation Week 2015 Workforce Study.

But it is not just Silicon Valley, it is automotive, oil and gas and even financial industries that are looking for the high-tech talent so necessary in aviation/aerospace.

What is needed is a tool about the advanced technology that surpasses anything Silicon Valley is doing, something FA/AW News hopes to do. A tool that would discuss, as AIA pointed out, new technology that puts the industry on the leading edge of the future including virtual prototyping and 3D printing for jet and rocket parts on the International Space Station, and for advanced aircraft materials and design.

GE is already ahead of the game on creating those tools, with advertising campaigns and TV programming sponsorships that showcase STEM innovation.

Source: Carlos Aranda via Unsplash


Several trends are converging that could perhaps turn the tide in manufacturing’s favor including the cost of higher education. In addition, manufacturers have partnered with community college partnerships to meet their needs which attracts students from their local communities. There has also been growth of career & technical education (CT&E) which reaches down into high school to recruit new talent.

Perhaps, most importantly, is the interest of parents – especially in working class and middle-income populations – in creating alternate strategies for their children’s college education.

Part II – Manufacturing Skills Gap

Failure to Build the Workforce is Bad for Business – Part II

AIA: Skills Gap Will Leave 2/3s of Jobs Vacant

This is Part II of a series establishing future workforce needs in aviation/Aerospace manufacturing. Part I discussed the numbers – or lack thereof – and economic consequences for the inability to meet future workforce needs if drastic action is not taken.

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Source: NASA via Unsplash

The aviation/aerospace manufacturing industry is not only facing an acute workforce shortage during the next decade, it’s facing a skills gap that could prevent more than half of the 3.5 million jobs Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) members predict will be needed by 2026 from being filled.

The fact is, according to the Institute for the Future, employees must be turned into entrepreneurs with the creativity to develop work arounds to intractable problems.

Corporations, on the other hand, will need to significantly change the traditional employer-employee expectations and relationships in order to foster that creativity and ingenuity, a tall order.

Indeed, the gap between skills needed and those available in the population or in management is already here, according to a February 4 Gartner study. It concluded 58% of employees need new skills to address their duties because the number of skills required of a single job increased 10% annually since 2017.

Skills Needed

Source: This is Engineering via Unsplash

We know there is a growing skills gap for emerging technologies but such a gap exists with current technology as well and nowhere is it more acute than computer science and data analytics. And, we know serious reforms are needed in the education and industry sectors to build a constantly-pivoting, interdisciplinary workforce.

In demand skills, according a DOD analysis in the January 2021 Department of Defense study Industrial Capabilities Report said there are not enough software engineering resources in the education pipeline. DOD also identified skills related to machine learning, cyber, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and hypersonics as in high demand.

DOD’s concerns about the pipeline syncs with educators who say silos need to be dropped between engineering, computer science and many other disciplines.

Aviation Week & Space Technology’s 2020 Industry Workforce Report, done in partnership with AIA and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), said the top 2019 reskilling areas were cybersecurity, data science, program management and manufacturing systems/computer skills. An increasingly connected industry means the industry will be competing against DOD – and everyone else, really – for those skilled in AI and machine learning.

Employers across all industries also see soft skills – problem solving, critical thinking, literacy, communication and collaboration – as increasing in importance and something they can’t find in the current workforce.

The Institute for the Future report, The Next Era of Human|Machine Partnerships, explored the impact that Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) and Cloud Computing, will have on society by 2030.

Source: Mimi Thian via Unsplash

“This outlook concludes, over the next decade, emerging technologies will underpin the formation of new human-machine partnerships that make the most of their respective complementary strengths. These partnerships will enhance daily activities around the coordination of resources and in-the-moment learning, which will reset expectations for work and require corporate structures to adapt to the expanding capabilities of human-machine teams.”

The good news is humans will not be redundant because their creative skills and human passion are more challenging to program, said the report. Brian Mullins, CEO and co-founder of DAQRI, believes passion is the clear advantage humans have over machines.

“If you pick up a device and learn how to do something that you couldn’t do before,” said Mullins. “You could fire up a passion in people and that is what’s going to make a change in our world. This is how the application of these technologies will solve even more interesting problems on a global scale.”

Tech Employees in Demand

Tech sits at the intersection of every corporate activity today so the inability to find computer scientists and data analysts is more ominous given findings by the AvWeek Study showing attrition is highest among young IT employees.

In a 2016 study, Korn Ferry found traditional firms already struggled to find the digital talent they needed for customer service and digital operating models. The study listed software and systems, electrical, mechanical and model-based engineers as critical occupations along with manufacturing automation specialists, all in high demand in other industries.

“The United States is so far failing to equip the next generation with the new skills that are needed to fill large numbers of high-tech roles,” says Werner Penk, president, Global Technology Market, Korn Ferry. “As with many economies, the onus falls on companies to train workers, and also to encourage governments to rethink education programs to generate the talent pipelines the industry will require.”

Source: Joshua Sortino via Unsplash

But these companies and academia cannot do it alone. It will take a massive effort that must also include government, airlines, operators, airports and other industry sectors to wrangle the hundreds of different efforts we have today into a single-minded approach to workforce development.

Whole New World

The report also prescribed what traits of the future worker.

“Individuals will need domain expertise, the combination of experience, context, and knowledge on how ‘things get done,'” said the report. “In addition, they will need attitudes often associated with entrepreneurs – vision, perseverance, creative problem-solving – will be a critical trait for all workers to employ. The ability to take a measured approach to balancing the big picture objectives of the organization with an entrepreneur’s drive to design workarounds and circumvent constraints will differentiate the humans from the machines.

“In other words, the skills traditionally employed by entrepreneurs will be fundamental for all workers,” the report continued. “As AI cloud services enable more applications and devices to incorporate AI capabilities without heavy investment in the technical infrastructure, access to information will be even more expansive than it is today. In 2030, skills in information qualification and judgment will remain critical, as will the new skill of interpreting an output produced by an algorithm. The ability to make sense of combined human-machine outputs will be key for success in the next era of human-machine partnerships.”

What the report describes is a signficant change to current employer-employee expectations and relationships. Consequently, organizations will also need new skills. Legacy corporations are not known for what is needed in tomorrow’s workforce, especially with respect to being open to disparate opinions and tolerance of employees pushing the envelope as they become more entrepreneurial. This, and failure to address harassment and other issues, is behind the wholesale loss of under-represented workers who sometimes leave to become competitors. That is a giant loss of talent that is all too frequent in aviation/aerospace.

“Organizations will need to ramp-up their internal competency to ensure that the growing number of algorithms running their business align with their brands and values,” cautioned the report. “In addition to ensuring the outputs from the machine-learned systems are accurate, organizations will need to be adept at reviewing the assumptions built into machine systems to prevent the systems from exhibiting implicit racial and gender bias.”

Source: Hey Lagos Techie via Unsplash

Implicit bias has already been identified as a major problem in workforce hiring.

The report also confirmed organizations need to readjust their view of the workforce – understanding how they value work and a work/life balance. Digital natives will view jobs as opportunities to learn and make a meaningful impact. Organizations that support those aspirations will attract the next decade’s top talent.”

Organizations must also manage the human-machine partnership. “As more automated machine-learned systems partner with workers, there needs to be a way of finding ways to create spontaneous and novel approaches to accomplishing tasks which will help inspire creativity in the workplace,” concluded the report. “Implementing structures and processes that incentivize workers to deviate from algorithmic systems will reduce the likelihood that systems are running on historical or outdated assumptions, and pose attractive challenges for the workforce to outsmart the machines.”

Industry Actions to Fill the Gap

“To deal with this skills mismatch, we’re seeing some companies building their own talent pipeline by hiring straight from school or college,” said Korn Ferry Institute President Jean-Marc Laouchez. “These younger workers can be recruited at a lower cost and trained in the company’s specific culture and ways of working. Constant learning – driven by both workers and organizations – will be central to the future of work, extending far beyond the traditional definition of learning and development.”

But corporate workforce reskilling and retraining programs amount to only 4% of revenues in 2019. The AvWeek 2020 workforce study reported:

  • 50% of companies provide work-based reskilling
  • 40% of respondents provide classroom-based reskilling courses
  • 33% provide on-line based reskilling courses
  • In 2019, industries across the country signed up to increase the number of apprenticeships offered with 39% of respondents offering an apprenticeship program
  • The number of apprentices grew by 74% between 2018 and 2019
  • Respondents projected increasing apprenticeships by another 23% in 2020

Skill Adjacencies

Source: This is Engineering via Unsplash

“Many organizations have focused on talent acquisition to get the skills they need, however, our survey revealed that 74% of organizations froze hiring in response to COVID-19,” said Alison Smith, director in the Gartner HR practice of the company’s Leveraging Skills Adjacencies to Address Skills Gaps report. “In today’s environment, hiring is not possible for many organizations. Instead, companies can look at current employees who have skills closely matched to those in demand and use training to close any gaps. Some progressive HR leaders have partnered with their own internal data science teams to ground upskilling efforts in current knowledge of employee capabilities and prioritize immediate skills application.”


Gartner recommended companies do skills assessment of all employees to identify skill adjacencies, saying leading companies are already leveraging machine learning and Big Data in the effort.

AvWeek’s 2020 Workforce Study set three priorities: “Reskilling to meet the challenges in the coming years, understanding who the people are of aerospace and defense [through the lens of social change], and the identification of how industry is adapting to digitalization in a much-accelerated transformation.”

It is more complex than that, however. Despite the fact we have hundreds of aviation/aerospace development programs starting in Pre-K and $2B+ in federal spending on STEM, the industry still struggles.

What is needed are metrics to determine whether or not these initiatives are working. For instance, serious doubts have been raised by DOD about the erosion of STEM education. FA/AW News will examine this issue in the future.  

Perhaps what is needed is to step back and take a scientific approach once we determine what works and what doesn’t.

Source: Science in HD via Unsplash

Each effort from manufacturers such as working with state education officials to create career & technical education and community college skill building programs to AOPA’s high school curriculum move the needle to be sure. But is it moving or just shaking? Are programs the most effective they can be?

When asked why different associations didn’t band together to enhance their efforts, FA/AW News was told they were focused on their own constituencies, but it begs the question as to whether that is the best strategy.

We should be thinking instead about creating an industry-wide pipeline ecosystem – a continuum taking in not only education reform and workforce development but the wholesale remake of an antiquated industry culture forged decades ago. Most studies show addressing culture is a must and transformation is no longer about diversity and inclusion but about creating a Just Culture. Corporations are already considering incorporating the grinding social justice issues into their social responsibility mandates because they know it’s good for the bottom line.

The industry does not have time to do more studies because so many have been done. We have enough data on numbers and skills needed to act while we study such issues as the effectiveness of current workforce development and education programs.  

This will not be easy, but it is the only way to get to where we need to be. We sure won’t get there without wholesale industry change.

Industry, Academia Must Break Down Silos to Develop Future Workforce

By Kathryn B. Creedy

15 minute read

  • Education reform needed to develop interdisciplinary talent
  • Corporations and educators must remove silos
  • Companies already taking interdisciplinary approach to OJT for better outcomes
  • Changing curriculum is massive challenge
  • Traditional college degree or certification focus?
  • Wholistic approach needed to solve technical, social and economic issues raised by deployment of emerging technology
  • STEM programs not working
  • AR/VR not only speeds training but enables faster manufacturing and repair

Academia and corporations must break down silos because the future workforce will have to know how all facets of an aircraft work from design to testing, panelists said during the recent Vertical Flight Society Future Vertical Workforce Panel. Without that, they said, advanced air mobility will not achieve goals as rapidly as industry wants and, likely, neither will traditional aviation/aerospace.

Interestingly, this tallies with thoughts from aviation maintenance technician educators and MRO experts on how that discipline must change to accommodate emerging technology. They see the creation of super technicians that can work across disciplines, combining knowledge and skills related to electrics, systems and general maintenance, repair and overhaul. The panel also confirmed the need for continuous education throughout careers to accommodate technology changes.

Source: Uriel Soberanes, Unsplash

Panelists also discussed technology not only in design and execution but in knowledge transfer between the experienced workforces and new graduates, creating faster on-the-job workforce training and enabling repair of aircraft in remote areas by tapping resources they’ve never had before. As suggested in a previous article, this will be a requirement for advanced air mobility.

The panel, included representatives from the US Army, MIT, Penn State, Sikorsky, Boeing and PTC and comes at a time when both industry and academia are questioning how to educate the future workforce. For instance, Career and Technical Education (CTE) is being brought to bear to create career paths to local aviation and manufacturing jobs as part of a strategy to leverage corporate higher education benefits to achieve a college degree.

“We need the imagination, creativity and humility to address safety problems,” Penn State’s Amy Pritchett said. “We need the future engineering workforce to balance the ambition to push the envelope to bring new technology and systems to bear with the ability to imagine what can go wrong.”

Re-examing how educators educate comes at a time when corporations such as Apple, Google and IBM have eliminated the requirement of a four-year degree from some of their job descriptions. Last year, the government shifted its hiring practices to give job applicant’s skills priority over a college degree.

This is in line with suggestions education needs to radically pivot.

“Skills-based credentials focus attention on what a job applicant can do rather than the degree they’ve earned or where they went to school,” said Author and Education Columnist Jeff Selingo, recommending how colleges can change. “We should use the reshaped economy that will emerge from this crisis to let go of our allegiance to the traditional college degree as a signal of job preparedness. “Short courses offer opportunities for colleges to create new kinds of micro-credentials, including certificates, that can help reduce friction in the job market in two key ways. First, micro-credentials are a stronger signal to employers that an applicant has mastered a specific skill, particularly digital skills. Second, micro-credentials can stack on top of one another to eventually allow students to earn a traditional degree over time. Skills — including soft skills, such as communication, problem solving and teamwork — should be the coin of the realm in hiring rather than majors or the name brand of a school.”

David Deming, professor of public policy, Harvard University, and faculty director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, suggests pairing colleges and universities with community colleges to respond to pandemic laoyoffs and the need to retrain and reskill workers. He also said lessons learned from the Great Recession shows for-profit colleges did not deliver the results for which students were hoping and suggest a new approach is needed in developing training for skills needed immediately in the community.

“We need to convince our students the measure of success is no longer finding the one right answer,” said Pritchett. “Success is now measured on whether or not they can solve the big and difficult questions which don’t have one answer.”

How Academia Must Change

Source: Guilherme Stecanella, Unsplash

Academia also worries they must train tomorrow’s workforce for jobs we don’t even know about. In fact, the Institute for the Future estimates 85% of jobs today’s students will have by 2030 don’t exist yet. It’s 2018 study – Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 – is a clarion call to rethink education. 

Still today’s challenges were what the VFS panel discussion was all about and the issues raised are equally important. One such problem occurs at the intersection of computing and engineering, said MIT Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Nancy Leveson,

“We see the complexity of design and systems increasing exponentially,” she said, adding much of the issue relates to software development and design. “Systems engineering is now different than what students have been taught. For instance, safety engineers are woefully inadequate almost to be useless because the curriculum was created 60- to 70-years ago. It can’t handle software or human factors beyond the trivial and it can’t handle the complexity of the systems we have today. So many designs are completed without the input from a safety group. The design is then analyzed for safety after the fact but how do you analyze the safety of something if you don’t know much about the subject matter involved?”

Indeed, antiquated requirements was exactly the problem faced by aviation technician educators who now have a new tool trading prescriptive regulatory requirements for competency-based training. Whether that holds lessons for academia is the question.

Leveson advised an interdisciplinary approach in which each separate group – design, engineering and safety – is integrated at the front end with the design and development group. Indeed, manufacturing has long had this approach, integrating ease of repair and accessibility into the design mandate.

Source: Christina Wocintechchat via Unsplash

“We can’t leave software engineering education to the computer science department because they won’t learn anything about other engineering disciplines,” she said. “The problem we are seeing is managing complex, software-intensive projects and in operating systems with lots of software. We need to develop software engineering courses using engineering problems. We need to combine these disciplines into the basic aerospace engineering education.”

“Problems are not solved with only one perspective. We need all kinds of perspectives if we are to solve our problems,” said MIT’s Leveson

Leveson indicated academia needs to increase systems engineering education since the complexity of each aircraft is going to make that one of the critical subject areas. This is not just about the design of the aircraft itself, she said, but the design of the larger system including the social systems in which aircraft will operate such as air traffic control, collision avoidance in congested urban areas and certification.

Credit: Joby Aviation

“Unless this happens the potential of electric VTOL is limited,” she said, adding MIT’s Engineering Systems Division has integrated many disciplines including social sciences, economics and management into some of its programs. “Problems are not solved with only one perspective. We need all kinds of perspectives if we are to solve our problems. We need to change our education to produce the tools and techniques engineers will use to solve the large system problems.

“I’m working with NASA now to figure out how to implement integration and we don’t have the tools we need,” she continued. “EVTOL is just not going to happen. You can build an aircraft but until you solve issues that prevent these aircraft from crashing into each other and integration into other parts of the system such as airports and how they will interact with general aviation and police/emergency aircraft, we will be held back. General aviation is not going to be able to spend a lot of money on equipment. It is the social problems that will hold us up, not the engineering problems.”

Penn State University Professor & Head of Aerospace Engineering Amy Pritchett agreed. “Design is a matter of trade-offs between disciplines,” she said, adding administrators are constantly looking at how curriculum should be updated, changed and adapted. “We must address, not just engineering and physics but societal needs. We do not want to be siloed not just in academia but across the entire industry which is separated into divisions, disciplines and specializations. We need a broader organizational outlook, and the challenge is for the engineers we produce to be able to manage that. Somewhere along the way we need to convince our students the measure of success is no longer finding the one right answer. Success is now measured on whether or not they can solve the big and difficult questions which don’t have one answer. Rather than computing as a separate topic on the side, they need to understand computing is for the analysis of real time information aboard the aircraft and takes in system design and safety analysis and that it is integral to all our practices.”

She worried the more autonomous the vehicle the less forgiving they will be when things go wrong. She pointed to two accidents in which teams of pilots convinced the aircraft to operate in a way the designers never anticipated.

“We need the imagination, creativity and humility to address safety problems,” Pritchett said. “We need the future engineering workforce to balance the ambition to push the envelope to bring new technology and systems to bear with the ability to imagine what can go wrong.”

Interdisciplinary Approach to OJT

Industry has already adopted an interdisciplinary approach, according to Dr. Mark Robeson, Structures Tech Aera Lead, Technology Development Directors-Aviation US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, Aviation & Missile Center. He explained the on-the-job training (OJT) used to ensure the workforce stays current as technology changes includes new materials in academic venues but also in-house training of skills needed to take ideas from the earliest conception phases right through to flight testing.

Source: Shutterstock

“These cross-area collaborations are particularly important for new engineers to give them better competencies required for the job,” he said. “We expose new engineers to subject matter experts for testing, safety, engineering design and analysis, electrical and mechanical fabrication, all areas critical to flight testing. Even if they are not going to be working in these areas it is critical to give them exposure because it helps them understand the big picture and provides opportunities they can leverage in their own areas of expertise. Engineers who don’t understand the contracting and acquisition side are missing what they need to know to make the whole system work. Our people may come in as technical folks, but they need an entire depth and breadth of knowledge and skills to be successful.”

Sikorsky Director of Innovations Dr. Igor Cherepinsky agreed. “Graduating students have chosen a particular field of study such as aerospace or electrical engineering,” he said. “But they need knowledge across all the domains because a lot of work involves more than one domain. You need knowledge to understand what colleagues are even talking about. You must speak the same language. You may be well versed on one thing, but you must understand how it interacts with adjacent domains and that is the challenge facing today’s graduates.”

Cherepinsky pointed to training programs developed by Sikorsky to address this problem as well as mid-career employees who want to switch disciplines. He indicated those who switch to fluid dynamics, for instance, bring their aerospace design expertise to that discipline.

Sikorsky’s new-hire training shows universities are doing a good job in providing the basic skills and knowledge, but company training adds experience in the entire design, build and test cycle so they understand the entire process before they are put on big programs.

“You have to understand that you can never stop learning,” he added. “You should keep an open mind and continue to learn so you can adapt to new technology. Our training programs are aimed at people in different stages of their careers and we must help them adapt. We also can’t rely on PowerPoints or digital design tools but must develop hands-on programs so employees can understand the entire process from design to test flights and figure out what works and how to improve them.”

Indeed, some in academia and industry have suggested creation of a Transcript for Life that not only includes military service, internships, apprenticeships but the competencies the person has mastered. The Interoperable Learner Record (ILR) would trade courses and majors for listing the specific skills that people have mastered as well as relevant life experiences accumulated.

Changing the Curriculum Not Easy

One of the biggest challenges for academia is changing the curriculum and overhauling instruction methods, Pritchett explained, elevating the importance of working with industry to determine what needs to be done.

“We can’t just add more courses which everyone wants to do,” she said, adding leveraging what students are learning at corporate recruiting events, internships and cooperative programs, sheds light on what to teach. “We have to make hard decisions about the concepts and experiences we can vote into the lifeboats because of credit limits. What students learn [when they interact with industry] determines what courses they take. Students will tell you what they will come to and what they expect because recruiters are defining new curricula we need to develop.”

PTC Federal Aerospace, Defense & Energy Director of Business Transformation David Segal discussed the incorporation of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR), not only in education but as tools for the workforce. His company makes technology to facilitate communication with AR/VR.

“We bring the convergence between digital software and the physical worlds,” he said. “The role of AR/VR is future workforce training will put gaming-like technology in the hands of engineers. It will include the use of devices such as the HoloLens to project an overlay of instructions onto physical objects such as engines to bring real-time training to engineers and technicians. In addition, this same technology can be used for distance learning combining real-time collaboration with experts to provide fixes.”

He explained that it can be used to integrate manufacturing or maintenance tasks with manuals and sensors. It can also be used to guide and educate people on what needs to be done as the task is completed combining two efforts into one. Finally, it can be used in inspections. When damage is detected, the integration will be able to develop the work procedure for repair and project it on to the surface as the repair is happening, significantly shortening repair time.

The technology also addresses the critical brain drain the industry is experiencing and transferring that knowledge to the next generation. “These retired engineers can not only write the manuals but discuss in real time how to perform the procedures and instill best practices,” he said. “Technology can capture their knowledge and practices as they work and that can be streamed to devices for others to use. Engineers and technicians then have access to expert knowledge for guidance and knowledge transfer as they are working. These technology packages can replace current manuals and be connected to computer systems so they can use it as they work.”

Segal shared metrics from GE and Boeing. “Our customers say the ease of learning with AR is significantly simplified,” he said. “A Boeing study showed implementing AR provided 30% faster assembly lines while GE Energy had 33% faster work on wiring control boxes,” he reported. “GE also was 50% faster for assembly, maintenance and repair capability and saw a 30% improvement in knowledge transfer for their workers.”

He also discussed the advantage of using the technology for consultation in remote locations. “With real-time connection, you can stream work instruction and guidance to front-line workers consulting with an expert who can guide them not only verbally but visually on how to perform the operation,” he explained. “They can be connected seamlessly to life-cycle management systems. There are many different applications that are already in use.”  

 Current Outreach Not Working

Pritchett noted with alarm, STEM education is losing girls in middle school and minorities in high school. “What outreach we are doing now is not working,” she said, bluntly. “We describe this education as STEM, schools call it science, but it is really engineering. It is building things. Our nation has a problem attracting enough people to engineering and the science curriculum in middle school is not helping.”

Some outreach, such as the national rocketry challenge is working, but Pritchett is right we face a challenge retaining students in STEM programs. One suggestion pairs those already in the workforce with those in elementary, middle and high school to help them move through their STEM education. Demings suggested also pairing college students with primary, middle and high schools students to keep them interested in STEM and advise them on their next educational steps. Equally important is keeping graduates in aviation/aerospace since they are also being recruited by financial institutions and automakers who want engineers and modelers.

What is needed is understanding of the aviation/aerospace STEM programs already out there, as listed on the Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News website and working with them to keep students on track.

We also need investment in touting the futuristic innovative technologies that put aviation/aerospace on the leading edge of what students see as cool new stuff and keep them away from the siren calls of Silicon Valley and gaming.

Academia and industry are now at a critical crossroads which requires a completely open mind on how to educate the next generation. The panelists eloquently described the problem, but the next step is harder, how to develop and implement the solution. One thing is clear, however, we have no time to waste on defending the status quo.

Mitre, NGA, Feds Launch Neurodiversity Pilot Program

By Kathryn B. Creedy

While most people think women and people of color when it comes to increasing diversity, there are many other constituencies needing a place at the table if diversity and inclusion (D&I) is to really mean anything.

That signals the importance of a new Neurodiverse Federal Workforce (NFW) pilot program, a collaborative effort between National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), MITRE and Melwood, a D.C. nonprofit providing job opportunities to people with disabilities.

The World Economic Forum determined that diversity and inclusion is one of industries’ most important issues because studies conclude such programs are essential to corporate success. So along with programs for the inclusion of people of color, women, LGBGTQ, programs must also address the differently abled.

NGA’s new program, launched in December, is designed to increase opportunities for neurodiverse individuals, including those on the autism spectrum.

Supporting a National Security Mission

NGA is a unique combination of intelligence agency and a critical combat support agency. It is a world leader in timely, relevant, accurate and actionable geospatial intelligence. NGA enables the U.S. intelligence community and the Department of Defense to fulfill the president’s national security priorities to protect the nation.

The idea of its neurodiversity pilot program is to create increased career opportunities within the federal government and the creaton of a playbook to help other federal agencies recruit and support neurodiverse talent which have historically been underemployed along with a host of other differently abled people.

Advocates have been saying for years hiring the differently abled is not as daunting as some might think and NGA certainly agrees.

Michael Hales, NGA Analysis Tradecraft and Technology’s Deputy Director for Strategic Transformation, put the pilot program into context what the agency already does.

“The is part of NGA’s existing disability program,” he told Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News (FA/AW News). “First, we want to better support our existing neurodiverse workforce and second we want to hire world class talent. Our experience has been positive and we’ve talked to other federal agencies who already have people on the spectrum so it is important to determine if we can do more to support these workers. Our programs already have structures to ensure their voices are heard and their needs are met.”

Indeed, the new six-month NGA pilot program is designed to improve on NGA’s positive results. The pilot program increases federal employment opportunities.

The program addresses a significant need. The US has one million young people with autism turning 18 over next decade with a range of abilities, according to AJ Drexel Autism Institute.

“The level of underemployment in this population at different skill levels and the inability to find meaningful employment is a real problem,” said Anne Roux, research scientist for the Life Course Outcomes Research Program at the institute. “One of our core issues is the lack of employment capacity in our communities. This is true particularly about the types of jobs that are available. It is easier to find low-skill jobs in manufacturing or transport. But individuals who have special interests or abilities may be good candidates for the type of jobs in the pilot program.”

A 2015 report – National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood by the institute found young adults with autism had the lowest rate of employment compared to their peers with other types of disabilities. Research also shows only about one-third of young adults with autism are employed the first two years after high school.

“From a civil rights and social justice perspective, so many diversity and inclusion programs focus on racial, ethnic or gender diversity,” said Roux. “You rarely see anything about diverse abilities. We must expand the concept of diversity and inclusion to include people with disabilities. I think younger people expect this because they grew up seeing it every day in our public schools. People on the autism spectrum have a full spectrum of abilities to work. Once you open your eyes to the possibilities, people are more ready to accept different people into the workplace.”

Roux sees the NFW program as opening more possibilities for people on the spectrum with a high level of cognitive skills.

“It provides a new job sector for employment,” she told FA/AW News. “It is also a proof of concept that hiring neurodiverse people is doable and the type of modifications in the workplace may not be as daunting as it is perceived.”

Roux also pointed to the many benefits involved in adding neurodiverse individuals. “It increases the confidence of employers in hiring. Once they do hire, employers find they are intensely loyal and focused employees who have a unique set of skills. Computing and coding can be ideal jobs for those who are neurodiverse.”

Special accommodations for these individuals can be as simple as a different kind of lighting, noise cancelling headphones or being in an area that is less distracting, Hales explained, adding what NGA hopes to learn the accommodations needed for the future.

“People on the spectrum have been asking for this for a long time,” said Roux. “Now the workplace is figuring out the accommodations are very minimal including frequent breaks and presenting tasks in a different way.”

Visual presentations, she said, provides a different perspective on the entire task and signals other employees of the different ways something can be done. Colleagues also benefit, morale goes up as does job satisfaction. There is less turnover and more loyalty, she added.

NGA Depty Director Dr. Stacey Dixon Source: National Geospatiale-Intelligence Agency

NGA Deputy Director Dr. Stacey Dixon agrees. “NGA mission success is contingent on a world-class workforce with a wide diversity of opinions and expertise,” she said. “Neurodiverse talent can bring new perspectives to the NGA workforce and make important contributions to the mission.”

Hales explained the new workplace perspectives they bring strengthens the agency mission because they bring a new way of thinking about data and technology.

“They think in a very linear fashion while others have a gift for seeing the big picture and the implications of different efforts,” he said. “We need both to provide the best product for our customers. This is all part of our continuous effort to improve our mission and our approach to value all employees who support our mission. Each is unique but we see ourselves as a collective and have diversity of thought and perspective helps our mission.”

Roux agrees. “Neurodiverse employees have a different approach to problem solving which is an asset because of their ability to focus, their execution of routine tasks and keeping at it untiringly.”

Apprenticeship/Internships is Best Practice

Dixon explained the new hires in the program undergo an intensive, one-week training and interviews workshop before interns are placed in six-month internships in geospatial and imagery analysis roles supporting NGA’s mission. They are matched with buddies or mentors to help the new hires assimilate into working for the federal government.

“This is a tremendous learning opportunity for NGA,” said Dixon. “It allows us to demonstrate that neurodiverse talent adds significant value to the geospatial-intelligence tradecraft and helps the agency better support its existing neurodiverse employees.”

Roux said using the apprenticeship/internship model for people to learn is a best practice that enables them to move on to higher level jobs.

“Our entire education system is geared to send people to college, but this program is capitalizing on a group that often doesn’t go to college but has the cognitive skills to perform these jobs. This program is definitely something guidance counselors in schools need to be aware of.”

Diane Malley, director of Community Impact, Transition Pathways at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, noted those on the autism spectrum already work in aviation and pointed to Yasom Davis, who commutes an hour to work at Philadelphia International Airport.

Yasom Davis & his mother Letrece Nichols
Source AJ Drexel Autism Insitute

Davis, who works helping to shred paper, the ride-on floor buffer, labeling boxes and completing other service tasks, was part of the first cohort of talent recruited for the institute’s Project Search, a flagship program, designed to make the last day of school look like the first day of the rest of your life. The program hosts a cohort of eight students in a series of internships and vocational training designed to prepare students for competitive employment after graduation. Of the sixteen students who completed the program in the first two years, fifteen went onto the job search and are currently employed. Project SEARCH’s successes inspired similar programming and new initiatives around the city.

Federal Government Initiative

The NFW pilot resulted from the Office of Management and Budget and General Service Administration’s Government Effectiveness Advanced Research Center Challenge, a competition to solicit proposals to solve the federal government’s toughest management problems while collaborating with the private sector, academia and the public. MITRE’s neurodiversity proposal garnered a grand prize.

“This work will be an invaluable building block for creating meaningful change across the federal workforce,” said Teresa Thomas, program lead, neurodiverse talent enablement for MITRE. “NGA has stepped forward to lead by example, collaborating on an internship program that will benefit interns on the spectrum and NGA.”

Source: AJ Drexel Autism Institute

Hales agrees. “Our goal is to make hiring neurodiverse people part of the normal hiring process,” he said. “It is getting there and we are hoping this program will help get us farther. We hope to learn what does and doesn’t work.”

Hales also noted the impact on other employees and sees it as a tremendous boost signaling parents of the neurodiverse that there are not only opportunities but benefits in hiring the neurodiverse.

“It really depends on the individual and what interests them and what their talents are, just like anyone,” he explained. “They have the ability to be employed in any job. We are a very data driven agency, and we have analysts and staff in a wide variety of roles.”

The NGA program illustrates, when it comes to workforce issues, we need to change the conversation if we want to meet industry D&I and workforce goals. It shows a desire to include everyone who has something to offer and who can be mentored and trained to increase diversity in aviation and aerospace. Most importantly, it shows federal workforce policies and aviation/aerospace are welcoming and should be seen as a model for others.

ATEC Illustrates Difficult Path to Education Reform

By Kathryn B. Creedy


The opening of applications for two $5 million workforce aviation/aerospace workforce grant programs is a positive move, coming more than two years after the 2018 Reauthorization package calling for their creation.

However, it is only the tip of the iceberg on the towering task to promote aviation careers and reform aviation/aerospace education and training that includes new curricula on emerging technology, advanced manufacturing and engineering.

The grants are only a part of federal efforts to promote aviation/aerospace careers and improve the diversity of the industry. The FAA is now overseeing the Youth Access to American Aviation Jobs Task Force and the Women in Aviation Advisory Board, which are working diligently to create road maps for future workforce development. This, ironically, comes at a time when the General Accountability Office concluded FAA needs its own workforce development program.

Industry Workforce Development, Education Programs Abound

Meanwhile, industry has been working diligently on such programs, leveraging high schools, career & technical education and community colleges to train to the meet immediate needs. (See related story on the progress of aviation/aerospace career promotion and education.)

An example of the task ahead on education and training reform, is the recent passage of The Promoting Aviation Regulations for Technical Training (PARTT) 147 Act instructing the FAA to replace the current too-prescriptive language of Part 147 with community-drafted language that leverages competency-based instruction and focuses on outcomes based on new airmen certification standards (ACS) developed by FAA and industry.

A decades long effort, the new curriculum significantly streamlines education, enabling institutions to tailor coursework to the student and open satellite locations to increase the number of students in the pipeline.

Academia Now Echoing Tech School Concerns

Significantly, ATEC and the maintenance industry’s concerns about education and training are now being echoed in the halls of aviation universities about aeronautical engineering. This will be the subject of a panel discussion later this week at the Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL2021 conference.

The problem is, industry and educators cannot afford decades long efforts at reform, not with how rapidly technology changes. Ultimately, the maintenance schools had to do an end run around the FAA in order to get what it needed.

The measure was spearheaded by the Aviation Technical Education Council (ATEC) and is the culmination of calls for the changes dating back to a General Accountability Office report in 2003. Unfortunately, numerous efforts for change by working with the FAA did not yield what industry, educators and labor were looking for, according to Justin Madden, executive director of Government Affairs, Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

“Industry was telling educators they don’t want to retrain new hires but want them trained as part of the education process,” he said

The failure of both the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and the Supplemental NPRM to meet industry education needs forced supporters to seek legislation through Congress when they felt they were not being heard by regulators. But ATEC expressed caution about this approach.

“The Administrative Procedures Act sets forth the rules for promulgating regulation, including the requirement that the agency put out proposals and ask for (and consider) feedback, as well as economic impacts,” said ATEC Executive Director Crystal Maguire. “That is good for industry and we certainly don’t want to make a habit out of bypassing that very important process. It’s just that, in this case, we’d waited so long and were so frustrated by the FAA proposals, we thought it was warranted.”

The move to competency-based training might have implications for other higher-education institutions seeking changes to their own curriculum to accommodate new technology.

Little Association That Could

Not a lobbying organization, ATEC managed to wrangle a significant coalition of supporters among aviation groups in Washington, member schools, businesses and sponsors on Capitol Hill. To put ATEC’s accomplishement into perspective, Madden, who worked with ATEC on the effort, noted 14,000 pieces of legislation are introduced in a given Congress but only 300, just 2%, become law.

A true grass-roots effort, members did numerous “fly-ins” to discuss the disconnect between what industry needs and the ability for educators to deliver given antiquated regulations. The legislative process brought FAA in, enabling tweaking of the language to address FAA concerns.

“Often the FAA’s concerns were valid, and it gave the community, labor and industry a good opportunity to make changes,” said Joel English, executive vice president, Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM). “Even though we think the FAA certification process was arduous, it did give the entire sector a level of professionalism based on doing it right and that has allowed us to relax some things with the new Part 147. Serving two masters – education accreditors and the FAA – it was difficult to get it right, but we’ll hold on to those things we think are right in the interest of safety.”

The new rule streamlines oversight, eliminating the duplication – and conflict – between the accreditation and quality control requirements under the Department of Education and FAA. Non-accredited schools, including high schools, will still need to provide a quality system for FAA approval. In addition, separate approvals for distance learning are no longer required because the rule is based on performance and student test results.

In fact, an important part of the new rule means increased reliance on distance learning. Fred Dyen, professor, Blue Ridge Community College reported that many of his courses and projects can be taught online. “As long as you can impart knowledge, skills and risk mitigation virtually and can demonstrate that it results in competency you can go online,” he said.

Credit: Kathryn B. Creedy

“The FAA still looks at student performance as they do now,” English noted. “But now, if a school does not achieve a 70% passage rate over a three-year cycle, it would prompt FAA to take a closer look at the school.”

Indeed, one of the greatest contributions of the new Part 147 is the ability to streamline education and deliver a workforce with the knowledge and skills needed for companies to get them on the job from day one, without expensive training programs.

FAA Grants

Spearheaded by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), the grants fund between $25,000 and $500,000 for any single grant per fiscal year with applications due March 22. ARSA recently advised, FAA “strongly recommended” prospective candidates for grants submit a non-binding notice of intent by Jan. 29. 

The Aircraft Pilots Workforce Development Grants are designed to expand the pilot workforce and educate students to become pilots, aerospace engineers or unmanned aircraft systems operators.  Meanwhile, the Aviation Maintenance Technical Workers Workforce Development Grants will help prepare a more inclusive talent pool of aviation maintenance technicians, according to the FAA release.

This is the first opening of applications despite the fact Congress appropriated full funding for the two grants for FY2020. The programs were also fully funded by the year-end omnibus bill for FY21, said ARSA Executive Vice President Christian Klein in a recent brief. ARSA continues work on pushing full funding for FY22 and FY23.

“The launch of the grant programs is another important step towards solving the maintenance industry’s long-standing workforce challenges,” said Klein. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in very different circumstances than when the program was conceived more than three years ago. Today, in addition to fostering collaboration between schools, businesses, unions and government to recruit and prepare the next generation for successful aviation careers as maintenance technicians, these grants will also help rebuild our workforce in the wake of unprecedented economic disruption.”

Indeed, retraining and reskilling programs are a critical part of retaining the aviation/aerospace workforce as technology changes. It is also an important evolution long past due since the 40 years after digitalization displaced millions of high-value, well-paying factory jobs. As workers were replace by robots or jobs were outsourced, other developed countries implemented robust reskilling, upskilling and retraining programs to help transition affected workers into new jobs. Much could have been accomplished if the US had embraced new technology with retraining, for instance, coal miners and oil workers to clean energy, thus eliminating the hardship their redundancies have created in the interim.

While this is important, we still need to increase the number of aviation maintenance technicians to prepare for recovery and the tightened labor market created by accelerated retirements brough on by Covid-19.

ATEC Provides Path to the Future

Credit: Tulsa Tech

Industry efforts were eloquently recounted in a recent ATEC webinar that impressively told aviation schools exactly what changes were wrought and what specifically they need to do accommodate those changes. Indeed, ATEC has been at the forefront of providing blow-by-blow guidance and instruction, including templates, to members on everything from this new rule to transitioning to digital instruction in the wake of Covid-19. The PowerPoint presentation from the webinar is here while resources are here since operational specifications for schools will need revision.

The legislation directs FAA to replace Part 147 with the new language within 90 days of the December 27, 2020 enactment which puts it in late March, although such deadlines often slip.

ATEC said the new rule requires:

  • Schools to align curriculum with Airman Certification Standards (ACS), free from FAA micromanagement which means there are no FAA curriculum approvals necessary.
  • FAA to assess program quality based on student test performance.
  • FAA to defer to the Department of Education for oversight of all educational elements for schools that are nationally accredited institutions.
  • FAA will assess the quality of A&P programs, facilities, materials, equipment, additional fixed locations, instructor qualifications, student-to-instructor ratio for shop class, for non-federally accredited organizations.

“ACS is the glue that pulls together the curriculum and the test,” said Jared Britt, director of Global Aviation Maintenance Training, Southern Utah University. “It aligns everything, is more conducive to education and helps students. It also allows us to work more closely with our industry partners to gain valuable feedback on which parts of the curriculum need work based on their experience of hiring our students.”

Credit: Kathryn B. Creedy

Another important provision is the ability for technician schools to create satellite locations at local high schools providing certificate programs and allowing students to receive both high school and college credit. Such dual certification programs are already available in non-aviation disciplines in high schools across the US. Technical schools, however, must have those satellite locations on their operations specifications, mirroring the same requirement for Part 145 repair stations.

“The ability to open satellite locations is going to open up the flood gates for aviation maintenance technician schools and provide training for more students,” said Dyen. “We have high school teachers teaching this curriculum for 20 years, but students received no credit. With the new Part 147, schools can make instructors adjuncts to get both high school and college credit.”

Linking curriculum to the new airmen certification standards means students must demonstrate competency in knowledge, skills and risk mitigation. FAA, in coordination with industry representatives, developed a draft ACS last year. It hasn’t been published yet although it is available from ATEC, so schools could work on curriculum changes. It is continuously updated as changes are made.

The plan is to revise ACS periodically – perhaps on a two-year cycle – as new technology emerges. This means curriculum will be continuously updated as well. FAA already does this for pilots, resulting from new pilot certification standards enacted previously. Britt said it gives schools more freedom and flexibility to go about educating students within the framework of the ACS.

There is also no “seat-time,” or credit-hour requirement, leaving schools free to structure the program in whatever manner best conveys the elements outlined in the ACS. This also eliminates the need for experienced workers – veterans for instance – to repeat curriculum they already know, as long as they can demonstrate they have mastered it. It means students can work at their own pace and skip areas they are already competent in for faster certification. And students who need extra help proving competency will get that help rather than the one-size-fits-all approach of the old regulation.

“Time based learning is an antiquated concept, and this helps us rebuild the time requirements,” said James Hall, Dean of Aviation and Manufacturing National Center for Aviation Training, WSU Tech, “We are newly focused around what it takes to teach the novice to become worthy of certification. Now we have the flexibility to ignore time in favor of ensuring competencies. We can also streamline curriculum that are repetitive and cover the same material in different classes or when they have done these courses in high school or college.”

“We have a lot of students who are in manufacturing hubs who have a lot of experience in sheet metal,” Lewis University’s Todd Shuneman said. “They can now demonstrate their competency and move on. Students can also take entry-level exams so schools can develop a program tailored to them, rather than repeat training they’ve already had.”


Schools were struggling to incorporate new curriculum needed to prepare workers for emerging technology within the requisite hours of the old regulation. So, the flexibility of the new Part 147 is a boon to creating a dynamic, ever-changing curriculum that meets industry needs.

Credit: Upsplash

“This now gives schools the freedom to innovate,” said Maguire. “Schools are already brainstorming ways to innovate with their programs.”

For now, schools need to do a Gap analysis between the proposed ACS and their curriculum and more closely align that curriculum with it.

After doing the gap analysis, Shuneman, reported the curriculum was 90% aligned with the new Part 147. A gap analysis template is available on ATEC’s website.

The pressure is on to accommodate emerging technologies as reported by FA/AW News in November. While academia and industry struggle with how to change curriculum, the regulatory barrier looms large and requires new thinking. ATEC’s example provides one example but others will surely follow.

Industry Educational Resources Reaching Millions, Serious Education Reform Needed

15 Minute Read

  • Industry Still Inventing the Same Wheel Despite Need to Amplify What’s Already There
  • Manufacturing Career Education Boosted by State/Industry Efforts
  • Aviation/Aerospace Education Provides Economic Mobility, Transforms Families
  • Academia Questions How to Keep Up with Changing Technology
  • Education Delivery Must Be Different
  • Lifelong Continuing Education Needed
  • Aviation/Aerospace Career Promotion Still Needed

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Watching the hand wringing as the aviation/aerospace industry decries workforce shortages, one would think no aviation/aerospace career education programs exist.

Airlines for America says we need a Moon-Shot approach, “like Apollo in the 1960s.” Others call for the creation of a National Center for the Advancement of Aviation (NCAA), legislation for which was introduced last year.

Turns out, we don’t need any of those things because substantial progress has already been made in developing curriculum and creating free resources for Pre K-12 educators.

Wheel Already Invented

What few realize is educators, states, industry associations, manufacturers, aviation museums, corporations, aviation/aerospace technology corridors are way ahead of them, having already developed sophisticated curricula and workforce development programs that have exposed millions to manufacturing and aviation/aerospace careers.


There are scores of educational programs, at the K-12, high school and college levels with much available free online. In fact, early-childhood aviation education is supported by a Rutgers study showing aviation-related education improves executive functions in pre-K, indicating it is never too early to start recruiting coming generations.

In addition, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) offers a roster of free, for-credit online courses for students in Arizona and Florida. In partnership with Women in Aviation, it offers self-paced Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) tailored to students ages 8-17.

Resource List Available

Christa McAuliffe First Educator in Space. Credit: NASA

To help educators learn about these resources, Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News (FA/AW News) recently published Education Resources for Aviation/Aerospace, a continuously updated list of aviation/aerospace education programs – many free – and corporate workforce development efforts. It was astonished at how many there are. The list is designed to connect the dots between educators, aviation/aerospace education programs and corporate workforce development programs and vice versa. We all need to be talking to and investing in each other to meet our future needs.

A troubling insight though is the fact, despite the number of programs available, industry continues to reinvent this wheel and we must question whether efforts by individual associations who want to do their own thing should be funneling their resources into collaborating instead. Instead of creating a new program, perhaps these organizations should be amplifying existing aviation/aerospace programs by promoting them to their vast memberships.

Bonus Report: How Poor Schools Can Tap Aviation/Aerospace Resources

Industry workforce development programs such as those created by AAR Corp, Embraer, Airbus, Boeing and such manufacturing coalitions as the Aerospace Components Manufacturers (ACM) make it clear this is a wheel that has already been invented in many iterations addressing the needs of different segments of the industry.

Home to a booming business in commercial and military aerospace and submarine manufacturing, ACM’s Connecticut base is typical. More than 13,600 manufacturing workers are needed to fill manufacturing positions in robotics, 3D printing and other high-tech work to interest students in manufacturing, according to ACM Executive Director Paul Murphy. Nearby New Hampshire needs to fill 17,000 jobs.

Working with the Connecticut Department of Education, ACM created eight advance manufacturing educational programs including computer-assisted design and drafting and serves about 2,100 students in high schools in 41 districts.

Those efforts have been replicated in many states while communities have set up Manufacturing Days or programs to promote manufacturing careers. The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program offers a five-week program resulting in a national credential from Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) and leads to apprenticeships set up with the state’s Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

“We’ve learned the hard way that we can’t live on the service industry alone,” John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) instrumental in the workforce effort, said. “We have to have manufacturing.”

Manufacturing is a key focus given the more than 600,000 jobs remaining open in the manufacturing sector alone. Manufacturing programs, in aviation’s version of farm-to-table education, invite students and parents to discover their production lines where they learn how high-tech they are compared to the old, industrial image defining traditional blue-collar work.

Industry is right that we need a larger effort but shortsighted in its goals. We need an international effort, creating a one-stop shop to link aviation/aerospace companies, manufacturing and education. It is also right we need to keep promoting career paths.

AOPA, EAA Lead the Way

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) created its five-year-old You Can Fly High School Initiative, a free program funded by the AOPA Foundation, which is now in more than 200 school districts, 400 classrooms in 38 states nationwide.

Credit: Flight Schools Association of North America

Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) recently launched AeroEducate, its newest youth aviation initiative, bringing an interactive, educational and engaging experience to young people ages 5 to 18. Its new program complements Young Eagles, launched in 1992, providing free introductory flights to 8- to 18-year-olds to introduce them to the world of aviation. Sponsored by Sporty’s Foundation, it has reached 2.2 million young people over 28 years. With a chapter in practically every state, more than 75,000 young people have taken the next step in their aviation journeys by enrolling in its online course following their flights, said the organization.

Interestingly, the Aviation Community Foundation (ACF), a group of passionate pilots, entrepreneurs and educators, identified what such programs lacked after visiting over 30 programs – educating the educators.

“Traditionally, our assistance has mainly stemmed from hosting biannual, collaborative Elevate Workshops, but, with the ‘Educate Our Educators’ Grant, we can foster even more educational and professional development opportunities for these very deserving leaders,” said Executive Director Jamie Helander. Similarly, University Aviation Association, American Institute or Astronuatics and Aeronautics (AIAA), Space Center Houston and AOPA hold annual educator meetings or academies.


While ACM has its own curriculum syllabus, Aerospace Industries Association, (AIA) not only has aviation/aerospace curriculum it offers grants to purchase of STEM-type materials and projects. Estes Industry also has lesson plans and works with others including the National Association of Rocketry for the National Rocketry Challenge for teens. On the international front, similar efforts have long included the internships and apprenticeships US industry only recently embraced.

Credit: American Rocketry Challenge

More than half a million apprentices are registered with the Department of Labor. There are also potentially up to a million apprentices in non-registered programs. Registered program graduates are certificated as journey workers and recognized by industry.

The problem is the number of applicants far outweigh apprenticeships available. Duncan Aviation established its own apprenticeship program while Lufthansa Technik has long had such programs, including 200 positions during pandemic.

Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are part of public-private partnerships established with universities to grow talent like cybersecurity specialists through regional workforce projects coordinated by Business Higher Education Forum. There is also the Real-World Design Challenge, a high school STEM competition promoting engineering design.

Southwest Airlines illustrates the success of the many airline/school outreach programs. Southwest’s Campus Reach Program, partnering with CFES Brilliant Pathways, exposes students to a wide variety of high-paying airline industry jobs. Southwest noted millions of jobs will go unfilled by 2027.

It has worked in 1,500 urban and rural schools across the U.S. and Ireland. Annually, it reaches 25,000 K-12 students with a team of professional educators, administrators, corporate leaders and non-profit experts. It uses Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), a seven-year, federal grant-funded partnership program reaching multiple grade levels.

Recruiting New Demographics

More importantly, many of the education programs are targeted at under-represented communities which meet business demands for more diversity and inclusion which is good for the bottom line. Companies know, without such programs, industry will never reach its workforce goals.

A recent Atlantic article discussed the need to actively recruit and enroll low-income students by going into their communities and demystifying education and what it can deliver for them. It also discusses the resources needed for success including personal attention and remedial education, generous financial aid packages and industry mentors from similar backgrounds.

Credit: Ameircan Rocketry Challenge

Perhaps the best organization to help the industry in its diversity goals is the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals which not only has numerous programs to attract kids to aviation/aerospace and nurture them through to realization of careers, but a series of discussions called Courageous Conversations to help companies understand the challenge.

Least understood as we incorporate new demographics, is the fact these jobs will lead to a post-war-like economic boom growing the middle class, similar to what Asian and other developing regions have experienced. A perfect example of the economic mobility resulting from aviation/aerospace education was eloquently demonstrated by Vaughn College of Aeronautics & Technology President Dr. Sharon DeVivo in testimony before Congress.

“The average family income for a Vaughn student is about $39,000,” she told legislators. “Within one year of graduation 99% of those students are employed or continuing their education; 83% in their field… In a 2017 a study done by the Equality of Opportunity Project, looked at more than 2,100 institutions that were the best at moving students from the bottom 40% in income to the top and Vaughn was number one in the country. That is evidence of the transformation possible…We don’t just change that student’s life we change the whole family’s trajectory.”

Helping Rural Communities

The importance of all these programs – especially for rural states – cannot be underestimated given the fact they send their best and brightest away to college resulting in a permanent brain drain, stymying state ability to compete for companies wanting to relocate, completing the downward spiral deeper into poverty.

States need alternatives to traditional jobs that have undergone decades of declines and technical education is the way to get that with short-term and micro-training programs. This would help in recruiting companies looking for a lower cost of doing business. There is no greater example of what can be done than Pittsburgh, PA, and its steel-to-clean-energy-and-technology transformation.


For their part, Raytheon Technologies, Collins Aerospace, Airbus, Embraer, AAR Corp, OneWeb, Boeing, Textron, GE Aviation are leading the creation of new community education programs and air camps to strengthen pipelines to their manufacturing operations. Raytheon Technologies, GE and Collins Aerospace have developed programs – including grants – to support schools in developing programs in flight data analytics, coding, cybersecurity and additive manufacturing. (See their programs in the Educators Resources for Aviation/Aerospace Guide)

Learning Passport

Education does not stop with kids. Many are already developing programs to attract adults and point to military-to-civilian career programs. They also want to address mid-career adults laid off or who seek new careers.

They say it is finally time to create the reskilling and upskilling programs that gives industry what it really needs – a lifelong learner who is always pivoting to meet the next technological challenge.

What is needed is federal support for such programs. In comparison to its government counterparts, the US has failed miserably in transitioning workers as workplaces changed over the last 30 years.

“The United States spends a paltry 0.1 percent of gross domestic product on active labor market policies, less than one-fifth the average of other developed nations,” according to Harvard Professor of Public Policy David Deming, writing in the New York Times. “The lack of federal dollars to states in the past few decades, meant the loss of state educational programs and the increase in for-profit college enrollments. This is unfortunate, because a recent review of more than 200 studies finds that job training has large, long-term effects on employment, especially during recessions.”

During the last recession, for-profit colleges did not help students, Deming said. Graduates had lower earnings, were less frequently employed and had greater student debt than similar students who attended public colleges. Outcomes were particularly poor in online institutions.

Indeed, A PBS News Hour report indicated nearly 40% of those pursuing four-year degrees and some 70% of community college students never earn a degree. Think of that in terms of the accumulated student debt and the under-employment.

Despite that Deming sees community college job training programs such as those developed with local businesses as more successful. These programs substantially increase participants’ earnings, and because tuition costs are relatively low, they typically provide a good return on public investment, he said.

Industry Requires Lifelong Continuing Ed

We need to recognize education is no longer one and done – college/grad school and then on-the-job training. Aviation/Aerospace education is now a lifelong continuing education job.

Experts say future education must deliver academic programs that address new technologies. And businesses must re-think professional development and extend it down to line workers.

Credit: ConvertKit via Upsplash

Future education may likely be very different, according to Author and Education Columnist Jeff Selingo, who writes on education for The New York Times.

“Higher education needs to reinvent itself for continual learning if it is going to remain relevant and expand opportunity for tens of millions of adults who find themselves unemployed in a fast-changing economy,” Selingo wrote recently, suggesting a greater focus on skills-building education. “To build such a continual learning system, colleges will need to work closely with employers to understand the specific skills needed in jobs open now or where there is expected to be job growth in the near future. Those skill sets could then be divided into smaller increments and aligned with short courses which would rework how education is delivered.”

Some have suggested creation of a Transcript for Life that not only includes military service, internships, apprenticeships but the competencies the person has mastered. The Interoperable Learning Record (ILR) would trade courses and majors for listing the specific skills that people have mastered as well as relevant life experiences accumulated.

“Short courses offer opportunities for colleges to create new kinds of micro-credentials, including certificates, that can help reduce friction in the job market in two key ways,” he said. “First, micro-credentials are a stronger signal to employers that an applicant has mastered a specific skill, particularly digital skills. Second, micro-credentials can stack on top of one another to eventually allow students to earn a traditional degree over time. Skills-based credentials focus attention in the right place: on what a job applicant can do rather than the degree they’ve earned or where they went to school. We should use the reshaped economy that will emerge from this crisis to let go of our allegiance to the traditional college degree as a signal of job preparedness. Skills — including soft skills, such as communication, problem solving and teamwork — should be the coin of the realm in hiring rather than majors or the name brand of a school.”

Broward College in Florida offers one promising model after developing industry certifications and combining them with internships and other work-based opportunities with local employers. Made possible by the US Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program, the government program was used to fund thousands of training efforts as part of the Great Recession stimulus programs.

Career & Tech Ed Solution

Career and Technical Education (CTE) could be part of Selingo’s education transformation since it often leads to certification. Indeed, one of the major problems has been the insistence on college-for-all. Instead, we need to create strategies combining work toward certification with corporate tuition benefits.

National Cancer Institute via Upsplash

Parents will not give up on college education for their children. But they are demanding new options. There is a rising call for CTE as decades of college orientation has led to a shortage in tradecraft personnel. 

These shortages and parent demand for new options may be why demand for CTE is rising with twice as many applicants as there is space available in some programs. Quite simply, they have higher job placement and, in some cases, premium pay rates compared to traditional education.

“We need to make sure parents are educated about what we can offer,” Manchester (NH) School of Technology Principal Karen Hannigan Machado told PBS in an article showing more work needs to be done with these programs. “They need to understand CTE is not for kids who are dummies, or don’t go to college. Every program here, we encourage kids to go to college or earn a certification.”

Indeed, CTE today is a strenuous mix of traditional academic, including advanced placement courses and job training.

“High-quality CTE, experts hope, will address many of these issues with retooled, up-to-date programs that help propel students to postsecondary education and, in the process, give them more in-state connections and prepare them not only for in-demand jobs but for the flexibility the future will require,” wrote PBS.

What used to be called Vocational Ed has not only been rebranded to Career and Tech Ed but is now part of a pipeline for local industries as high schools and community colleges offer programs preparing students to fill jobs available in their communities. These train-to-work programs have fewer jobs in local communities than students in programs, signaling corporations need to catch up with demand.

Corporations must also respond with robust college tuition benefit programs offering them right down to line workers. While this is already happening, businesses need to sell it as part of their recruiting packages to meet parent demands for a college education, especially for those in train-to-work programs.

Challenges Beyond the Pipeline

Academia is already thinking and acting on curriculum and regulatory changes needed to develop the workforce befitting the advances of the 21st Century. (See related story on the dramatic changes to aviation maintenance training resulting from a decades-long effort to reform aviation maintenance education.)

Professors worry about the difficulty in fitting new academic disciplines into the credit requirements for degrees and concluding it cannot without changing curriculum. Aviation maintenance training institutions have solved this with new regulations eliminating the hourly requirements in favor of competency-based training and metrics.

As the Aviation Technical Education Council (ATEC) which spearheaded maintenance training changes, learned, the creativity of aviation educational institutions has been stymied by antiquated federal regulations that have not changed since the advent of the jet age. Compounding this is the difficulty in getting regulators to see how these changes are necessary but do nothing to compromise safety. The question is whether what ATEC accomplished can be applied to higher education. (See related story on what ATEC was able to accomplish.)

Credit: Alex Knight via Upsplash

Academia also worries they must train tomorrow’s workforce for jobs we don’t even know about. In fact, the Institute for the Future estimates 85% of jobs today’s students will have by 2030 don’t exist yet. It’s 2018 study – Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 – is a clarion call to rethink education. 

Industry has long known about the disconnect between what academia teaches and what industry needs to put the workforce on the line without expensive training programs for areas that have not kept pace with technological changes. Indeed, that is what drove ATEC’s efforts.

This then requires collaboration of industry, government and academia to forge new regulations, new training procedures and new academic programs by combining high school, CTE, higher education and corporate workforce development programs to increase the pipeline.

Higher Ed Needs to Be Part of K-12

Dr. James Gregory, chair of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State University, speaking during the NAA/NAHF webinar Aerospace Education: Inspiring the Workforce of Tomorrow, urged colleges to embed themselves into community colleges, high schools and elementary schools to not only attract kids to aviation/aerospace but keep them interested throughout their educational careers. He sees college students reaching back to teach their younger counterparts.

Randall Ohman, a former machinist and design engineer who is now a sixth grade STEM academy engineering teacher, agrees.

“I also recommend partnerships with manufacturers that make it easy and interesting for students to become engaged,” he told FA/AW News. “An example might be donating machinery and material to help teachers and the creation of manufacturing experiences for children. I’ve seen what the kids can do…it’s impressive. What’s more, they can’t get enough of it.”

FedEx B727 donated to Aviation High School in Queens Ny. Credit: Kathryn B. Creedy

Tools and materials are already a major concern for training programs like Aviation High School in Queens NY, which told FA/AW News, schools are sorely in need of modern equipment such as new generation engines and avionics to prepare their students to hit the ground running once hired.

We know that the emergence of advanced air mobility will severely test how we train and how we do business. Previously in FA/AW News, Emerging Technology Skills Gap Threatens Aviation Education, MRO discussed how maintenance will change and how education must accommodate these changes.

That is just one of dozens of issues needing to be addressed by new thinking and government/industry/education partnerships.


There is no question the aviation/aerospace education wheel has been invented and resources and funding are already there. There is also no question companies want to invest in education.

However, there is a glaring exception. No discussion of aviation/aerospace education would be complete without addressing the cost of pilot education, now hovering around $200,000+. Government, academia and industry must build a funding program and pressure is on to reform and streamline such training. Funding is one of the reasons why 80% of students do not complete their flight training, according to AOPA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Airlines provide loans for their cadets in training and SkyBound, a professional pilot loan program developed by FMS Bank, shows banks are interested but more needs to be done.

Despite the progress, industry faces a towering task to make all the moving parts work together better. We still need to promote aviation/aerospace and manufacturing careers. We also need to connect the dots between already developed programs and workforce needs so we can amplify and expand them.