Southern African airlines will face a potentially crippling shortage of skills, while also failing to hit employee transformation targets, if government does not fix basic and tertiary education, the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) has warned.
Speaking at the AASA’s forty-seventh annual general assembly conference, in KwaZulu-Natal, on Friday, CEO Chris Zweigenthal said airlines, together with the entire aerospace industry, were dependent on a pipeline of young, appropriately educated talent who they could prepare, with bridging training, for careers in the sector.
“However, poor science, technology, engineering and mathematics education – especially at schools in townships and rural areas – and the financial squeeze on South African universities and students is causing the pipeline to dry up,” he said.
He added that, without this talent pipeline, airlines and other aviation businesses in the region, specifically South Africa, face a “calamitous future”.
Africa’s unprecedented population explosion is driving increased demand for air transport across the continent, with projected growth of about 5.7% a year over the next 20 years.
In parallel, around 20 000 new pilots, similar numbers of technicians and engineers, together with a range of other professions will be needed to operate and support Africa’s expanded fleet and to succeed the current generation of airline employees, Zweigenthal pointed out.
“Transformation is a nonnegotiable factor and we want to accelerate the pace at which we advance representation and diversity, not just in the cockpits and the executive suites, but in all roles across the industry,” he said.
He added that, frustratingly, combined efforts from industry, which included various industry-funded education outreach initiatives, were hamstrung by the low standards of basic education, especially in poor communities.
“At the same time, we trade in an open and competitive labour market. In addition to fixing education, we need to attract the available talent to work in aviation in the region and also find ways to make sure they want to stay,” he stated.
Zweigenthal highlighted that contributing factors identified by AASA for urgent attention included the scarcity of funding, keeping in mind the current financial squeeze on universities and students, the absence of a specialist aerospace and air transport education institution in Africa and a lack of effective coordination between governments, educators and the industry.
The latest industry econometric study shows that aviation supports 6.8-million direct, indirect and induced jobs in Africa and generates $72-billion for the continent’s combined gross domestic product.
“A significant portion of these are in Southern Africa, which is a key economic and development enabler and driver of domestic, regional and global imports, exports, investments, business and leisure tourism and innovation,” he said.