The U.S. Air Force has announced plans to make their employment approach more family-friendly in response to an ongoing pilot shortage.
Carlton Everhart received hundreds of responses from Air Force airmen over one month, after reaching out to them on Facebook in mid-April asking for suggestions on how the Air Force can better retain pilots. The gesture shows a willingness from the Air Force to ask pilots directly what can be done to improve their positions.
Many Air Force pilots can transition seamlessly to a commercial airlines job when their Air Force service is over, with much of the aircraft and machinery being the same. As a result, the Air Force has experienced pilot shortages and is concerned about more. They are worried that, with 1600 pilots eligible to depart from the Air Force over the next four years, the temptation will be too great.
As a result, Gen. Everhart has been working alongside an AMC aviation retention task force since receiving the feedback, with a 12-person task force focused on using the responses to improve job appeal.
Why Air Force Pilots Are Departing
Among the feedback from pilots includes the need for more familial stability, a lack of support personnel, flying becoming secondary to administrative functions and the impact of service politics. Another point of common feedback is the abundance of miscellaneous tasks not even related to flying that airmen have on their list of to-dos.
As a result, in August the service began removing “additional duties” that airmen usually received, with some of the duties undergoing reassignment to new hires and commander support staffs. The Air Force hopes this will lighten the load for airmen, so they can focus more on tasks that use their expertise.
Gen. Everhart also notes that airmen expressed concern for their children’s quality of life. Long deployments can cause familial strain, with children not seeing a parent for lengthy periods. Consequently, the Air Force has shown increased reception to decreasing deployment time or opting for non-airmen to pursue certain deployments instead.
Although the Air Force is concerned that their pilots will flock to national airline jobs when their service is over, the Air Force continues to work with the airline industry to address a national pilot shortage. In the next 20 years, North American airline companies are anticipated to need 117,000 new pilots, putting them in a similar need for pilots, as in the Air Force.
One strategy is for the Air Force and major airlines to work together in refining requirements to retain and hire pilots. In addition to further investments in programs that promote the aviation industry as a whole, the Air Force plans to research methods to reduce the cost of civilians receiving aviation certifications. The industry is expensive to the point of being prohibitively expensive for some, so modifying the cost of certification can help combat that divide. Along those same lines, the military has also looked into alternative pathways for pilot certification.
The strategy primarily involves the Air Force and national airlines combining their vast resources to shine a light on the benefits of the aviation industry to the public, while also eroding some cost-related and qualification-related barriers to entry within the industry
Emphasis on a Family Focus
If there’s one thing most airmen value more than their job, it’s their families. The Air Force is taking feedback seriously regarding aviation positions not being particularly family-friendly, as a result. Lengthy deployments, uncertain schedules and spending too much time on unspecialized tasks can result in time spent away from family.
The Air Force has addressed unnecessary deployments and work by evaluating all AMC deployments. To accurately measure time away from home for airmen, the Air Force is also evaluating measurement protocols. Gen. Everhart notesthat he is “looking at ways to make life more stable for Airmen and families by making assignments longer and providing enhanced ability to meet family needs where the assignment system allows.”
It’s also likely that the Air Force will invest in educational opportunities for military spouses, to encourage a family-first focus and general retention within the military. Overseas opportunities can be especially appealing for Air Force members who have to undergo lengthy deployments.
Additionally, the Air Force’s recent unveiling of the Aviation Bonus Programmeans greater financial opportunities for families, providing a monetary incentive for those in aviation that’s a vote of confidence for airmen presently wondering if they want to continue their position in the Air Force.
Gen. Everhart’s willingness to approach airmen for advice on how to improve their roles within the Air Force shows a commendable, transparent goal for making aviation jobs sought-after and healthy. The Air Force’s addressing of over-work, commercial job opportunities and family impact are effective steps to give airmen newly founded confidence regarding their position within the military, as well as their family’s future.