Gulfstream’s ‘playroom for technicians’ feeds engineer pipeline

Gulfstream needs to make 300 to 400 gross hires of technicians a year and has no trouble reaching that target.

Gulfstream Aerospace operates training laboratories and a simulated service centre where student engineers and technicians can consolidate their skills and build confidence before moving to operational facilities.

The training centres are coupled with school and community outreach programmes and are a key means of ensuring access to a skilled workforce at a time of growing competition for skilled labour, Derek Zimmerman, Gulfstream’s President, Product Support, told Corporate Jet Investor’s Miami 2019 conference last year.

“Recruiting from an A&P [airframe and powerplants] school is extremely competitive,” said Zimmerman at the session entitled: ‘After the aftermarket – the battle for maintenance’. “It is not unusual for a major airline to show up at an A&P school and take entirety of a graduating class.”

So, Gulfstream has sought new ways to boost its pipeline of engineers and technicians. One way is to selects recruits with some technical aptitude – perhaps from an automotive or electronics background – and train them rapidly and effectively to work on business jets. “You just can’t go out these days and find a large number of already experienced technicians to add to your labour pool,” said Zimmerman.

Experience has taught Gulfstream that assigning recruits to its simulated service centre is a far more effective means of training than pairing the student with an experienced engineer in an operational facility. “Given the demand for technicians, putting an experienced person out on the [engineering facility] floor with an inexperienced person is a good way to bring that experienced person’s productivity down,” said Zimmerman. “It would also put that inexperienced person in a place where they are not as competent or as confident as we would like them to be.”

‘Work on our assets in a safe space’

Gulfstream’s solution was to invest in an on-the-job training centre with laboratories and a simulated service centre where students can practice what they have learnt in a supported environment. “This enables students to work on our assets in a safe space and to practice things repeatedly. And there is no pressure from a customer who wants their airplane back or worries about the quality of the work they are doing.”

After hearing Gulfstream’s approach to training, session chair Ford von Weise, Citi Private Bank’s global head of Aircraft Finance, said: “It sounds as though you have built a playroom for mechanics.”

Zimmerman responded: “Yes, that is essentially what it is. It allows us not to compete head-to-head with some of those big players who have a tremendous appetite for technicians.”

Gulfstream Aerospace’s other strategy is to reach out to high schools and technical colleges to contact students who may never have considered a career in business aviation. Gulfstream recognises that the students they contact may not end up working for the company but believes it is important to portray business aviation in a positive light to youngsters.

The US recruitment market has tightened considerably in the past five years, says Zimmerman. But Gulfstream does not expect any shortfall in recruitment, despite requiring another 100 to 200 technicians a year reflecting the opening of new facilities and the expansion of its fleet. “Based on retirements and people moving around the business, Gulfstream needs to make 300 to 400 gross hires [of technicians] a year. We have no trouble doing that.”

‘Gulfstream needs to make 300 to 400 gross hires a year’

Gus Faucher, chief economist with PNC Financial Services Group, underlined the competitive nature of the US recruitment market with unemployment rates reaching an historic low. “The unemployment rate is 3.5% – basically the lowest we have had in 50 years. Pretty much everyone who wants a job can find a job,” said Faucher in his keynote address. “So, if we haven’t got full employment now, we are very close to it.”

In a separate presentation, Michael Amalfitano, President and CEO of Embraer Executive Jets, highlighted the importance of designing recruitment strategies that appealed to Millennials. One-in-three of all American workers is a Millennial, and the group already forms a bigger cohort than the Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964.

“When you are thinking about workforce development and thinking about hiring engineers, the people you need to work for your business, sustainability is going to be a big part of what Millennials and your future workforce is thinking about,” said Amalfitano.

Corporate Jet Investor’s Miami 2019 conference took place at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach on November 12 and 13.

Meanwhile, Corporate Jet Investor’s London 2020 conference will take place at The Landmark on February 3rd and February 4th. Read the full conference programme here and booking details here.