The State Of Aviation Manpower In Africa

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By Kamate Joel

The aviation sector is a strategic one for each continent as it supports a broad set of economic and social development activities. The African continent has taken too long to make the industry well known in areas that could be considered as the potential reservoirs for aviation manpower recruitment. That has obviously contributed to the creation of a gap between the optimum staff in the different aviation sectors and the staff available.

At the beginning of the second half of year 2022, it was recorded that African aviation industry will require over 65,000 staff amongst them pilots, technicians and crew members by 2041. Though a lot of corrective actions are being taken by the different key actors in order to reduce the manpower shortage, nowadays, in every African country, having the appropriate number of skilled workers is still a big issue.

In the fields of air navigation services and air transport, there is still a remarkable gap between the staff in hand and the optimum number needed for the continuous and safe provision of the respective services. Sectors like meteorological assistance to aviation, firefighting, ground support services and airport commercial fields, must not be neglected though relatively less impacted. The training sector, which is sometimes neglected is not an exception. So, we see that the continent needs a considerable manpower in the short term as well as the medium and long terms.

The good news is that all the key players are well aware of the implications and never skip to address it.

Taming the Poaching of Africa’s Skilled Workforce

Keeping a talented or skilled worker in a company is a normal role of any employer and particularly Human Resources (HR) managers. But is it that easy? Losing an employee is very expensive and turnover is very contagious as well. Studies have shown that when one of a two-member team quits a company, the other one is 25% likely to follow. The same studies have shown that the percentage is even greater for a larger company. From my recent discussions with young aviation professionals, about the same topic, it appears that poaching is most of the time facilitated by bad HR practices in companies.

Good practices like the following are frequently scorned:

  • Hiring the right people based on a good set of hiring objectives,
  • Shaping A Good Career Development Plan,
  • Providing The New Recruit With out of the Box Benefits,
  • Appreciating The Employees
  • Conducting Exit Interviews,
  • Building Health and Wellness Programmes
  • Providing Leadership Opportunities

The impact of poaching of Africa’s aviation workforce by companies based on the continent usually have less impact on the continental workforce equilibrium than when it is practiced by companies outside the continent. When an employee feels heard and well informed about the company issues, they are likely to remain loyal to the company.

From my 22 years experience in the aviation sector, skilled staff quit this privileged sector for the following but not exclusive reasons:

  • Employers fail to preserve their own integrity
  • Poor corporate or company communication practices,
  • Unhealthy socio-cultural working environment
  • Poor protection of gender
  • Non-effective management of generation gap

For the different stakeholder to rise to the challenge of skilled workforce retention in the African aviation sector, a special attention should also be paid to the training sector. A good way to do so is to support the aviation training organizations (ATOs) on the continent.

Manpower Training on the Continent

Over the last 60 years, the African states as well as private companies have been working individually or in groups to train the manpower needed for the sustainability of the aviation sector. Thus, a considerable number of training centers (schools, colleges, institutes, etc..) have been created across the continent. Those institutions are most of the time specialized in a given field. Therefore, while some are specialized in civil aviation trainings (air traffic control, ATSEP, aircraft engineering, etc..) some others are leading the flying, aviation firefighting, ground handling, aviation management, etc. sectors. And they have been doing well but not enough nor in a harmonious and coordinated way.

In 2008, the Secretary General of ICAO during a meeting in South Africa, gave the mandate for the creation of an organization that will gather all ATOs on the African continent with the clear objective of harmonizing and standardizing the aviation training provision on the continent. After almost five years of consultations, the Association of African Aviation Training Organizations (AATO) was created in April 2013, in Abuja (Nigeria). AATO has members in every single region on the continent, more than 90% of which are all ICAO Regional Training Centers of Excellence (RTCE). It has signed an MOU with AFCAC and their joint efforts to provide adequate aviation training based on the needs clearly expressed by states bring hope of an efficient training of aviation professionals on the continent by African Instructors wherever it is possible. Besides the AATO/AFCAC partnership, AATO encourages collaboration among ATOs on the continent to cover the various training needs. But without the appropriate means and support from the other stakeholders, AATO cannot rise to the challenge alone.

Creating a New Crop of Aviation Professionals in The Next 30 Years?

Creating a new crop of aviation professionals to anticipate the upcoming even bigger shortage gap needs specific actions. First, conditioning potential future candidates even from generation A (4-5 years) through appropriate and customized information programmes is essential. In 2014, during the Next Generation Aviation Professionals (NGAP2) symposium I attended in Montreal, Canada as member of the delegation of the Agency for the Air Navigation Safety in African and Madagascar (ASECNA), I depicted at the workshop the poor level of information of very young Africans about aviation matters.

After the information phase, efforts for attracting, recruiting, training and retaining will carefully follow. The retention of the new crop will be determined by the degree of implementation of the well-known management best practices. I always emphasize the fact that when an employee feels heard and well informed about the company issues, they are likely to remain loyal to the company. The recruitment efforts associated with the benefits of the AATO/AFCAC collaboration programme will obviously help the continent get the NGAP committed to remain on the continent and contribute efficiently to a harmonious and sustainable aviation industry.

Role of Training Institutions in Africa in Containing the Shortage

As mentioned earlier, containing the skilled manpower shortage on the continent needs a full commitment of all the key players. Safety standards should be the same everywhere on the continent, therefore stakeholders including states, African Union specialised commissions, aviation associations and AATO should pay special attention to the provision of training to all professionals from ab initio to refresher trainings. Refresher trainings are inevitable to bring professionals to the required proficiency. As far as AATO is concerned, the provision of quality aviation training based on standardization and harmonization is critical for the development of a sustainable, safe and secure air transport industry in Africa.

Recently, a gigantic step forward has been taken by the stakeholders which in the first place we have the AFI Plan and the AU through its specialised commission, AFCAC to empower AATO so that it can fully and efficiently play its role.

Collaboration is Needed to help Build Training Capacity in Africa.

The provision of quality aviation training is critical for the development of a sustainable, safe and secure air transport industry in Africa. Building a harmonious and efficient training capacity in Africa cannot go without robust and sincere collaboration among ATOs. Like mentioned above, no single ATO can pretend to have the monopoly of all aviation trainings needed on the continent. This is why, since the first general assembly of AATO, held in Zanzibar (Tanzania), in 2014, member ATOs have without reserve, opted for more collaboration and cooperation. It includes the pooling of specialized infrastructure, the pooling of instructors, the sharing of training programmes and all in a non-competition basis. Since all regions are represented in AATO, it becomes easier to have a clear understanding of the different training challenges across the continent and address them efficiently through the commonly approved collaboration mechanisms.

From what I see in the AATO /AFCAC partnership, the collaboration between ATOs is expected to be stronger in the coming years because no single ATOs should be left behind.

Parting Words

The provision of quality aviation training is critical for the development of a sustainable, safe and secure air transport industry in Africa. As a region that faces shortages in critical skills in key areas of civil aviation to plan, coordinate, manage, operate, and oversee all complex operations in various aviation infrastructure, the growth of the industry will be influenced by the pace at which African organizations are able to develop and retain adequate and skilled human resources in compliance with ICAO provisions, plans, programs and required performance specified in ICAO SARPS.

As a region that faces shortages in critical skills in key areas of civil aviation, the growth of the industry will be influenced by how fast the African organizations including ANSPs are able to develop and retain adequate and skilled human resources.

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