Dwindling student enrolment has caused the University of the Fraser Valley to suspend its one-year certificate program for aircraft structure technicians.
“There has just been a very obvious and easy-to-count decline in student numbers to the point where it becomes not particularly viable to continue to run the program,” said John English, the university’s dean of applied science.
The business administration aviation diploma offered by the university has not seen the same drop in numbers and will continue.
English says the department is not sure why the structures program has seen falling student numbers considering the demand.
“It’s a seller market for skilled labour,” he said. “In every sector, everybody is competing for people.”
The program isn’t cancelled, and its future will be re-evaluated in two years.
The enrolment shortage is no surprise to industry experts, who are seeing a labour shortage of aircraft technicians throughout the aerospace industry.
A Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace 2018 report on the industry’s labour market says three-quarters of openings for aircraft support jobs are to replace retirees. The report says there will be a shortage of 1,200 or more aircraft maintenance engineers by the year 2025.
The job prospects for aircraft technicians are just not very promising and other trades offer more financially, according to Peter Chick, an executive board member at Pacific Aircraft Maintenance Engineers Association.
“The guy with years of experience, he’s probably going to be making maybe $38 to $40 an hour,” he said. “A journeyman auto mechanic will make more and doesn’t have the responsibility.”
He said the industry is desperate for new people coming out of school.
“Everyone is retiring. You go to the airport here in Vancouver and you look at the engineers – you know, structural or regular engineers – and they are all gray-hairs. I’m one of them,” he said. “Basically you got a heartbeat, you got a job.”
Neil McKinnon, the director of maintenance at Conair in Abbotsford, said the company is already short around 10 people in aircraft structures.
“We’re competing against all other companies across Canada,” McKinnon said. “That’s why we’re having such a hard time getting people in the door.”
He said change in the labour market was sudden and was felt immediately in the industry.
“Ten years ago there were people lined up at the door to come and work, and it’s drastically changed over even the last five years.”
UFV is considering making its program more integrated with industry, similar to other aviation programs across the province, when the program comes under review again in September 2021.
“It takes a couple years, sometimes – at least a year anyway – to look at that,” English said. “There is a time when programs are simply not viable anymore. Now we’re not there yet, but that does happen.”