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This article was published 12/10/2018 (365 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba chapter of the Air Cadet League of Canada is holding its first-ever career symposium in Winnipeg today.
Far from a throwback to a bygone era, the Air Cadets may actually be holding down a strategic position in an upcoming potential labour-market crisis — the shortage of skilled workers for the aviation and aerospace sectors.
It’s no secret the global aviation sector is facing a serious shortage of pilots and skilled aerospace maintenance workers in the coming years.
A recent report by the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace (CCAA) said the need for experienced pilots is beginning to outpace the available national supply. Projections show the industry will need an additional 7,300 pilots by 2025.
There are plenty of reasons for that, and no easy solution.
Bill Zuk, the former executive director of the Manitoba Aviation Council, said one solution might be for the aviation industry to pay closer attention to the supply of potential new employees, including young pilots, that the Air Cadets produce every year.
Through its scholarship program, the Air Cadets are responsible for 200 new licensed pilots every year. Those new, licensed pilots obviously need more experience to become commercial pilots. But, since the CCAA study showed there are fewer than 500 new commercial pilots available to the Canadian industry each year, Zuk and others believe Air Cadets could play a role in solving the industry’s future labour shortage.
The fact that all the major aviation and aerospace players in Manitoba will have a presence at this weekend’s Air Cadets career symposium is an indication of the industry’s support. And it’s not just pilots that are going to be in demand. The Canadian aviation and aerospace industry currently employs about 154,000 workers and is expected to need 55,000 new workers by 2025.
Winnipeg’s StandardAero facility is one of the largest aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul shops in the world. For several years, it has been closely aligned with Red River College’s Stevenson Campus. Whereas the lack of apprenticeships in aviation-specific occupations is a barrier to attracting students into the industry, Red River College is the only place in the country offering apprenticeship programs for a gas-turbine repair and overhaul technician, and aviation maintenance journeyperson.
David White, the vice-president in charge of the aviation businesses owned by Exchange Income Corp. (EIC) — which includes Calm Air International, Perimeter Aviation and Keewatin Air — is well aware of the long-term impact Air Cadets can have. His companies employ scores of pilots who came out of that program, and it’s one of the reasons EIC is a co-sponsor of today’s career symposium.
It’s just one of the multiple angles White says needs to be explored when dealing with future labour market issues.
The company employs several-hundred pilots among its various airlines, and while White said there are no immediate concerns when it comes to filling all its positions, the company is very aware of the need to stay ahead of the game. Earlier this year, it pulled off a bit of a coup by acquiring Moncton Flight College, the largest flight-training college in Canada.
"We have to plan well into the future, hence buying Moncton Flight College," White said. "We need multiple strategies to attract and retain people. The pilot shortage is not something that can be fixed with the flip of a light switch."
When it comes to the training of commercial pilots, it takes time and an organized pathway for pilots to gain the flying hours and experience that makes them eligible for increasingly more responsible positions.
There are about 1,500 Air Cadets in the province taking advantage, at no cost, of the programming that Canada’s Department of Defence provides. But, for those fortunate enough to get scholarships for pilot training, it still ends up being a very expensive path — close to $100,000 all in — to accumulate enough flying hours to be eligible to become a commercial pilot.
Raquel Lincoln, the volunteer special committees director for the Air Cadet League of Canada (Manitoba) Inc., said Air Cadets have already shown an interest in the field. But, she believes in addition to those dedicated enough to put in the hard work necessary to become pilots, the industry needs to be more pro-active in making them aware of what other career opportunities the aviation and aerospace industries have to offer.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Friday, October 12, 2018 at 8:56 PM CDT: Adds photo