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Demand for Skilled Workers Expected to Drive Job Gains in 2012

Februrary 29, 2012

Business aviation hiring is expected to increase substantially in 2012, according to several firms specializing in aviation jobs placement. The job gains may be greatest for those in aircraft avionics and maintenance, although the number of pilot jobs also is expected to be higher.

These positive prognoses are a further sign of the improving climate for business aviation, and support predictions that the industry will see a modest upturn this year. “I think our survey pretty much indicates that it will be a positive year,” said Sam Scanlon of JSfirm.com, an online aviation job distribution network.

In mid-February, the firm reported that 85 percent of companies responding to its annual Aviation Industry Hiring Trends survey expected to hire more workers in 2012, with most of that activity coming in the first two quarters of the year. The survey covers a variety of aviation sectors, including rotorcraft, general aviation and commercial aviation.

Scanlon said the JSfirm.com survey shows the hiring gains will be fairly evenly split among all sectors. Respondents included businesses of all sizes, from major manufacturers to small operators, and included companies in all industry segments.

Scanlon and executives from other aviation staffing agencies say the hiring climate actually began improving last year.

“At the very beginning of 2011, we started to see additional headcounts turning,” said Sheryl Barden, president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, an aviation recruiting firm that exclusively serves the hiring needs of flight departments in business aviation. “Now, we’re starting to see flight departments replace retirements, fix people problems within their departments and add employees.”

Last year, companies also started positioning themselves for an expected market upturn by hiring more executives.

“Management searches for us doubled in 2011 versus 2010,” said Grayson Barrows, director of sales at Aviation Search Group, an aviation management recruiting firm with a focus on business aviation. “Folks are looking for game-changers; people who will come in and alter the budget, create new services and build new teams. We expect to see that trend continue in 2012. It’s not slowing down by any means.”

Amid all this positive news, however, is a growing concern that employers may have a difficult time finding qualified people, especially to fill more technical jobs requiring a higher level of training and industry experience.

“If you look at all the data, we’re going to be woefully short of trained talent,” Barden said. “It takes a long time to train someone in some of these jobs, and it takes a lot of money.”

This shortage could be especially severe in the area of maintenance, due largely to what Barden said is a changing dynamic in the segment where today’s aviation technician works as much with a computer as with a wrench.

“We’re competing with an entire industry of technology for that talent,” she said. “Unfortunately, we’re not bringing enough people into maintenance to support us. We’re going to have a serious gap. We already do.”

Scanlon added that the growing need for experienced, qualified employees extends to other job disciplines, and is the primary driver for the dramatic increases in postings JSfirm.com has seen on its website this year. “It has been extremely busy on our jobs board; I mean busier than it’s ever been,” he said, adding that indications are the jobs gains will continue well beyond next year.