HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Hiring skilled aircraft mechanics is becoming more and more challenging, so one Hill Air Force Base unit has innovated its efforts to improve training processes for new hires.
Curt Borovetz, chief of the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group’s Training Flight, said a shift in available workforce has resulted in a need to revamp how training has historically been accomplished. A new depot school, formal hands on training, training videos, and an aircraft training dock right on the production floor are all key elements of AMXG’s new training framework.
“In the past, we’ve hired individuals with active-duty experience, or with a higher level of maintenance experience,” Borovetz said. “That hiring pool has been exhausted, and the attrition rates for experienced mechanics has moved faster than the workforce can keep up with. How we’ve always trained incoming mechanics is no longer sufficient to meet the warfighter’s requirements.”
The long-range goal is to develop a “depot tech school,” similar to the tech school new Airmen might attend upon entrance into the Air Force. Here, they will get some basic training, such as safety and tech data training, and hands on projects. Borovetz said they worked with Air Education and Training Command to benchmark the same courses used for its new active-duty aircraft maintainers.
The school would reduce the training time of the piecemeal training currently in place that takes three to six months while they’re working, down to several weeks upfront before they ever hit the depot production floor.
Another aspect of the process is working with the Ogden Air Logistics Complex training office to develop a skills-based curriculum, with courseware and instruction. This would then transition Depot Technical School graduates into training with skilled mechanics, working on mock-ups, “practice” aircraft, and finally on mission assigned aircraft to progress their skills.
“AMXG and F-16 SPO are bringing in two aircraft from the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson) for training,” said Casey Wheeler, 309th AMXG lead training manager. “Instead of risking damaging a flyable aircraft, trainees will have the opportunity to train on actual aircraft. People will make mistakes, and we’d like them to make them on a training aircraft, not on the real deal that could be very costly.”
In addition to spearheading the training aircraft acquisition, Wheeler has been working with the OO-ALC Courseware Flight to identify and determine subject matter experts to create instructional videos that will be used to help new mechanics with challenging processes. This will enable technicians to view and review on video a process they are about to perform.
The skills-based training began development in December and is now fully implemented. Once the reporting capabilities are functional in the Training Scheduling System, tracking and analysis functions will begin. Richard Holland, 309th AMXG lead training analyst, said there have been a few setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he is very optimistic about where the program is headed.
“I expect there will be a huge payoff down the road,” he said. “We aren’t there yet, as it takes at least two years to develop a highly trained and skilled workforce, but I think in several years we will see huge dividends from our training efforts.”
Col. Chris Boring, 309th AMXG commander, said it’s a strong training approach that will help the group be successful, and he is proud of what has been accomplished so far.
“Our new training approach underpins our framework to improving our aircraft maintenance performance and is part of a much larger vision that focused on working hard, being innovative and getting the job done effectively,” Boring said. “Our group is ground zero for nearly every fighter weapon system that’s important to Air Force and Joint warfighters, so it’s important we are successful. We don’t have options; we must succeed because failure today is too costly for tomorrow’s Air Force.”
Although the new training program is not 100 percent implemented, Borovetz is excited about the direction it’s headed.
“This has been a major collaboration with a lot of people coming together, including production, the ALC training offices, engineering, and many others. It’s been a big team effort and everyone has been on board with the changes,” he said.