‘Just can’t hire fast enough’
Trevor Nichols - Nov 21, 2017 - Biz Releases

Image: Contributed
KF Aerospace is having to turn away work because it can’t find enough people to hire.

Kelowna’s KF Aerospace is hiring from every corner of the country; it’s hiring from across the world; it’s sent recruiters to each and every college in the country; it’s even created its own college programs, and snapped up the entire graduating classes.

But KF Aerospace still cannot find enough people to hire.

Grant Stevens, the company’s human resources director, says KF has been “hiring like mad.” He’s already added 264 people to the company payroll this year–bringing his employee count to more than 1,000–and he still has more than 60 vacancies to fill.

“We can’t find enough people in Canada to do the work,” Stevens says. “Right now … if I could hire another hundred people in skilled labour I could keep them all busy, because we’re turning away probably 20 per cent of our workline right now. We just can’t hire fast enough.”

Stevens isn’t alone, either.

As the airline industry flourishes under a relatively strong economy, the amount of work for companies that repair and retrofit aircraft seems limitless.  The problem for all of them is the massive dearth in the number of qualified aircraft repair technicians and engineers in Canada.

Canadian airline giant Bombardier announced last week its hiring 1,000 people to work on its new Global 7000 aircraft–an undertaking CEO Alain Bellemare said would be a “challenge” in the current market.

Empty graveyard

Stevens explains that companies like Bombardier continue to pump out new planes, but older aircraft aren’t hitting the aerospace graveyard like they used to. Instead, cargo companies and discount airlines are keeping them in the sky.

KF gets a lot of its work repairing and retrofitting old planes, and Stevens says many of the company’s contracts are for converting passenger planes to cargo planes.

“People are looking to fly smaller loads, point-to-point, as opposed to larger loads to a central facility, and then out again,” he says, adding that he believes the trend stems largely from the increasing popularity of online shopping.

“From what we understand, companies like FedEx and Purolator are all growing their business in air cargo, as a result of online shopping demand.”

That means a lot of work for companies like KF, if only they could find the people to do it.

The problem, Stevens says, is that there’s only so many students  graduating from aerospace programs each year, and they’re just not enough to service the industry in Canada

Bombardier not an issue, but…

Surprisingly, Stevens says Bombardier’s search for 1,000 people in an employment market that’s already stretched isn’t worrying him.

“The good news for us is that, normally, the Bombardier jobs don’t compete directly with us,” he explains.

Most of the work on the new Bombardier planes will be manufacturing work, he says, so the company won’t need as many of the more specialized engineers and technicians that KF hires to do its repair work.

However, Stevens does say he’s nervous about another big company that’s just set up shop in Canada.

Two months ago, the global aviation company AAR bought a pair of aircraft maintenance facilities in Quebec and Ontario.

AAR is a major global company, and Stevens says that, if it decides to grow maintenance operations at those new facilities, it will be looking for workers with the same skills and qualifications as KF.

“That’s the one that scares me more, because if they decide to grow their facilities that’s where I’ll get direct competition,” Stevens says.

Nevertheless, KF Aerospace continues to hire and expand, something Stevens says will likely continue for a couple years, as long as the economy stays relatively strong.

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