In the next 20 years, ICAO projects that airlines around the world will have to add 25,000 new aircraft to the current 17,000-strong commercial fleet. By 2026, the aviation and aerospace industry would need 480,000 new technicians to maintain these aircraft and more than 350,000 pilots to fly them. The aviation manpower requirement projections are staggering. Asia, being at the core of this growth, will bear the brunt of this skilled manpower shortage. Bridging Skies delves into Singapore’s game plan to address the challenge of increasing and shaping aviation’s future manpower pool.

The success of the aviation industry is driven by its skilled workforce. While the shortage of aviation professionals is a global issue, the Asia-Pacific would be hit hardest. Boeing predicts that the Asia Pacific region would need some 185,000 additional commercial pilots and 243,000 new technical professionals in the next 20 years. In tandem with these projected statistics, the international aviation community will correspondingly require many more air traffic controllers, cabin and ground crew, engineers, inspectors and other professionals to keep the industry moving. This significant shortfall in aviation professionals prompted ICAO to launch the Next Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP) initiative in 2008 to ensure that enough qualified and competent aviation professionals would be available to operate, manage and maintain the future international air transport system.

Understanding Singapore’s Manpower Development Landscape

As noted by the NGAP Taskforce, having reliable data is key to developing strategic and tactical solutions to address these issues. Singapore has been checking the pulse of its manpower development landscape. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has invested in several manpower studies with industry bodies and trade associations to investigate issues the industry faces on the ground, understand the future manpower demand and supply over the next 10-20 years, as well as its training trends and capacities. Through these studies and engagement efforts, common threads of challenges have been identified and suitable strategies and solutions have been put in place. It is evident that the way forward will require reassessment on how the industry is regulated and how our current and future aviation professionals are engaged, recruited, retained and trained.

Tackling Manpower Supply Constraints

The studies have shown that with the low unemployment rate in Singapore, reduction in foreign worker quotas and some sectors of the industry facing an ageing workforce, the aviation industry has to put in place strategies to woo new entrants, both young individuals new to the workforce as well as mid-career professionals into the industry. With other growth industries ramping up efforts in recruitment and inherent high manpower mobility within and outside the industry, it is a job-seekers market.

One of the strategies identified which will mitigate the demands on the open market supply is to reduce attrition of current aerospace employees. Drilling down to boost human resource retention at company level, industry players also need to address pay competitiveness, provide structured career paths, as well as provide training and development opportunities to up-skill the manpower pool and offer them long-term career opportunities. To achieve this, emphasis needs to be placed on increasing productivity, job redesign and improvement on work processes.

To tackle this supply constraint, CAAS will work with other government agencies and the industry to support holistic efforts at attraction and retention, including the provision of suitable incentives and support.

Taking A Balanced Approach To Regulation

As part of CAAS’ progressive regulatory regime, it continually consults and engages the industry to develop regulations that enable a future-ready and safe aviation industry. This year, CAAS reviewed its policy for the licensing of aircraft maintenance engineers (AME) to reduce barriers to entry for young people. Previously, an apprentice aircraft engineer had to undergo at least four years of training even after graduation from a relevant tertiary-level aerospace course. This long apprenticeship period was a deterrent for graduates seeking a career in aerospace engineering. Following the review, the four-year apprenticeship period was shortened by up to one year as tertiary institutions were guided on how to conduct part of the approved basic aircraft maintenance training as part of their aerospace curriculum. Some of the students’ training hours in school will then be counted towards the training hours required to qualify for a CAAS aircraft maintenance licence. This initiative will aid in building the AME pool and reduce training costs.

Increased Focus On Competency-based Training

In recent years, competency-based training (CBT) and assessment has been gaining greater acceptance as a more effective way of training skilled personnel. Singapore has actively invested resources to support industry adoption of competency-based training.

CAAS’ training arm, the Singapore Aviation Academy (SAA), is reconfiguring its programmes in line with the NGAP mandate to achieve greater programme standardisation, yielding globally recognised certifications. Accompanying this is a competency-based framework to rigorously assess trainees’ proficiency and enhanced quality control over training delivery to validate each programme’s effectiveness. Recently, SAA, one of the first training organisations to achieve the ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS full membership, completed its first Standardised Training Package (STP) that is being shared with the global TRAINAIR PLUS community – a competency-based training package for aeronautical search-and-rescue personnel, which shortens the traditional training duration by more than half.

“By embracing a competency-based approach and facilitating the development and sharing of cost-effective Standardised Training Packages (STPs) across an international network of member training organisations, TRAINAIR PLUS promotes quality teaching and learning,” said Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary (Transport), at the inaugural ICAO TRAINAIR PLUS Global Symposium hosted by CAAS and SAA.

Another effort is CAAS’ adoption of the Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL) initiative introduced by ICAO to train pilots directly for co-pilot duties in an airline environment. The MPL programme focuses on training the cadets in a multi-crew setting from the early stages, concentrating on core competencies to prepare them directly for eventual careers with the airlines. An extensive portion of the training is spent under instruction in a multi-crew environment in modern flight simulation training devices with the training focused on heightening the cadet’s situational awareness and threat and error management. This programme has been gaining ground since it began as a trial programme in 2010 with Tiger Airways and ST Aerospace Academy, with a trial batch of six trainees. Through the CBT, the cadets are systematically trained and regularly assessed on their performance of specific co-pilot tasks to achieve defined outcomes.

Reaching Out To Our Youth

To keep ahead of the competition, the industry needs to continually build a strong core of aviation specialists and professionals by starting with our youths.

Over the years, Singapore has invested in a robust education and training infrastructure. There are specialisation opportunities available at Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) covering aviation areas such as civil aviation management, aerospace engineering and manufacturing. This offers students a valuable grounding in targeted segments of the aviation industry.

As such, industry players are working more closely with IHLs to create greater awareness of the high value-added technical jobs available in the industry. Since IHL students in aerospace-related courses are the most natural source for aerospace engineering roles such as aerospace technicians and inspectors, companies are working with IHLs to select suitable students inclined to take on these jobs and provide them with a structured internship programme to engage them and maintain their interest in the industry.

Even as we train students for aviation professions, studies also show that many students in aerospace engineering choose other fields of work due to personal interests and aspirations. This highlights the need to understand the drivers that motivate the young in their career choices. To target this segment, CAAS has developed programmes to engage, ignite and sustain the passion for aviation among our youths.

CAAS launched the Aviation Manpower Programme (or AMP) last year to drive manpower development efforts in the aviation industry. Part of the fund has been devoted to stepping up on our youth outreach efforts and encouraging young Singaporeans to join this sector. There are two initiatives under the AMP, the first is the Aviation Horizons Scholarship. It is a working scholarship which enables companies to recruit IHL graduates immediately upon graduation, and together with CAAS, sponsor their part time studies for higher qualification. This scholarship aims to allow high calibre students to acquire work experience in the aviation sector, while concurrently pursuing further studies. Through this scholarship, we can actively support young Singaporeans’ aspirations to upgrade their capabilities, while ensuring that our industry has its fair share of talent.

Another initiative is the establishment of the Aviation Youth Outreach Seed Fund, which aims to expand the range of aviation interest activities currently organised for youths by the industry, associations and student groups. Complementing CAAS’ own youth outreach activities, the Seed Fund will support new ideas put forward by these groups.

A Tripartite Effort

Engagement programmes such as the Aviation Open House encourage the involvement of industry and learning institutions in promoting aviation and its careers. These targeted programmes aim to excite them in learning about the dynamism and vibrancy of the challenges and opportunities in the aviation industry. The activities range from a career talk series and industry visits to industry promotion fairs drawing strong response from many schools and thousands of participants.

The key is in rallying industry support to work on this long-term strategy with us though the fruits of our labour will only be evident much later. “The industry has responded to our call for support and we have seen strong participation at our youth-targeted events, especially with the initiatives that reach out to youth audiences in specialised aviation courses,” opined Angela Ng, Senior Manager Planning and Development at the Aviation Industry Division, CAAS.

Boosting Industry Collaboration Is Key

Manpower development will be an enduring issue that the industry will be grappling with for some time to come. CAAS takes a long-term approach in the development of human capital and has been rallying the industry to work cohesively to promote aviation jobs, and position the industry as one with abundant opportunities. Bridging the gap between supply and demand would require concerted efforts from government agencies, trade associations and industry players to ensure that developed plans support business growth and continue to meet aviation’s specialised human resource needs.