SkillBridge aims to ease shortage
This interview was done before the pandemic changed everything. It has
been updated where possible, but some nationwide statistics may be dated.
With the aviation industry facing a severe shortage of maintenance technicians,
Embry-Riddle has teamed up with AAR, Pratt & Whitney, Northrop Grumman,
Lockheed Martin, and StandardAero in a program designed to make it easier for
soon-to-be-discharged military personnel to land high-paying jobs in civilian aviation.
Called “Aviation Maintenance SkillBridge,” the training program begins at Hurlburt
Field in Northwest Florida Oct. 19, with an initial class of up to nine students.
If the programs initial launch product at Camp Lejeune-New River, N.C., is any
indication, all students will graduate and likely to be offered jobs.
“The SkillBridge program is specifically for transitioning military in their last 180
days, and veterans who have an honorable discharge,” said Angela Albritton,
director for military relations and strategic initiatives at Embry-Riddle, “and military
spouses can also attend the program.”
Although it’s at an Air Force base, the program is open to all military branches.
“Embry-Riddle is the nation’s top-ranked college for veterans.” said Dr. John R.
Watret, Chancellor of the Embry-Riddle Worldwide Campus at Daytona Beach, Fla.
Aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) play a crucial role in the nation's aviation
industry, working behind the scenes to ensure the continued safe operation of
aircraft. These highly-skilled mechanical professionals working away from the public
eye ensure aviation remains the world’s safest mode of transportation.
But the industry is facing a shortage of personnel across the spectrum, including
pilots and maintenance personnel, partly due to the growth of aviation and partly
Boeing predicts the need for 44,000 new aircraft in the next 20 years to meet
worldwide travel demands. This will require 769,000 new technicians worldwide with
193,000 needed in North America, according to a release by AAR.
The other issue hitting the industry is the retirement of long-time members of the
industry. According to the General Accounting Office’s February 2020 report, the
average age of a maintenance technician in the United States is 54 with 50 percent
of the 333,000 certificated technicians between the ages of 50-70. Increased aircraft
demand with a significant number of skilled technicians retiring leaves the industry
searching for a long-term workforce solution.
To address this crisis, industry participants have partnered with Embry-Riddle
Aeronautical University in the development of the maintenance SkillBridge program.
Launched in August 2019 at North Carolina's Camp Lejeune/New River, the program
combines 18 semester credits of civil aviation maintenance training in preparation for
the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
knowledge test and FAA oral and practical exams.
The course includes industry specific aircraft type training, resume building and an
employee benefit workshop. Upon program completion, students are ready to join the
SkillBridge program participants will receive guaranteed interviews from AAR, but
have the option to interview with other industry partners as well.
Students are not required to have aviation technical backgrounds. To date, each
SkillBridge class has been divided, with half of students having aviation maintenance
experience and half with other technical/mechanical experience.
Students with aviation experience have an expedited pathway to FAA certification
and for those who have always desired to be in aviation, they now have a pathway to
a career in aviation. After 18 months of on-the-job work experience at AAR, an
individual can submit an application to the FAA to complete their Airframe certification
process as well.
At Hurlburt Field there will be three cohorts every year, each lasting for nine weeks.
Class sizes will be limited for the time being. The ideal size, however, is 20 to 25. The
plans right now are to have face-to-face classes, but given the unprecedented times
caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it could be converted to a hybrid-flex model if
necessary, including virtual interviews.
The classes are full time and will be held Monday through Friday.
“We plan to expand the program to seven military installations, and five of them
have already been announced,” Albritton said.
In addition to the program already underway at Camp Lejeune-MCAS, New River, N.
C., the program will launch in August at Hurlburt Field, NAS Jacksonville, Fla., Fort
Carson, Colo., and Fort Bragg, N.C.
The program at Camp Lejeune has been a success. The second cohort graduated
in March. And the first class? It had 100 percent graduate and 100 percent were
given job offers. One Marine received four job offers.
“I am very pleased,” said Albritton about the program at Camp Lejeune. “It’s a
personal thing for me. I come from a big military family and I have seen how good
transitions can look and I’ve seen how some transitions haven’t worked out as well
and the impact it has on families.”
This is the second SkillBridge program that Embry-Riddle is doing with industry. It
also has an IT program with industry partner Microsoft. More than 1,500 transitioning
people have gone through that program in four years.
During the November 2018 Aerospace Alliance Summit in Point Clear, Ala.,
participants were given a clear message that steps need to be taken to ensure the
workforce pipeline is filled as more companies show interest in the Gulf Coast.
Ron Garriga, associate executive director of U.S. Campus Operations, Embry-
Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide, said the industry will need 790,000 pilots,
754,000 technicians and 890,000 new cabin crew over the next 20 years to maintain
the world’s fleet.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Garriga said, “if that doesn’t concern you, where have you
been? … We have got to get our pipeline together.”
Two months earlier the Federal Aviation Administration held a Workforce
Symposium attracted people from across the aerospace spectrum. Participants
heard that the number of jobs is growing but the talent pool is not keeping up.
In May 2019, aerospace giant Airbus announced two training programs in Mobile,
one for high school students, another for people already in the workforce with no
aviation background who want to shift to aerospace.
In late 2018 there was a groundbreaking for Flight Works Alabama, a combination
hands-on learning center designed to pique interest in the industry and an adult
education center with nine education partners.
In Pensacola, ST Engineering launched a scholarship program, and plans to
develop a training program as well to ensure it has the workers for its growing
maintenance, repair and overhaul campus at Pensacola International Airport.
All this emphasis on education and training is for a good cause. In the immediate
future there will be a need for people to fill some 2,000 positions in Mobile and
Pensacola. And it’s likely more, considering the continued interest the industry has in
Embry-Riddle is also a key participant in an Airbus training program in Mobile, Ala.
Airbus in May 2019 announced the launch of two programs designed to employ
applicants with little-to-no previous aerospace experience. The programs,
FlightPath9 and Fast Track, are intended to train candidates to become workers on
the company's A320 and A220 jetliner assembly lines in Mobile.
FlightPath9 is a nine-month program for high school seniors. It will be run by Flight
Works Alabama, which has partnered with Airbus, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University, Cintas, Snap-On Tools, Southwest Alabama Partnership for Training and
Employment, and the National Coalition of Certification Centers.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a non-profit, independent institution and the
world’s largest university specializing in aviation and aerospace. It has residential
campuses in Daytona Beach and Prescott, Ariz.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide campus, established in 1970, has
campuses at more than 130 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the
Middle East. It’s had operations in the Gulf Coast region for decades, holding classes
in New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Pensacola, Milton, Fort Walton Beach, Crestview and
- David Tortorano