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En Route to Better Learning
By 2020, the majority of US air traffic controllers will reach retirement eligibility. The Federal Aviation Administration invests in learning to prepare for the generational shift in its workforce.
Two million airline customers choose to fly on a typical day. Because air traffic controllers manage how aircraft travel safely across the United States, it is critical that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fully trains controllers at its more than 290 air traffic control facilities.The FAA, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is the largest agency within the Department of Transportation. Of the 46,000 FAA employees, approximately 32 percent are dedicated to air traffic control and are responsible for the safe arrival and departure of more than 50 million flights per year.The organization has trained a geographically dispersed workforce of 15,000 controllers across the United States to manage flights and keep passengers safe since its formation in 1958. However, in the next decade, approximately 11,000 controllers will reach retirement eligibility. Prior to this realization in 2005, the FAA enjoyed a stable workforce, hired in small numbers and needed only minor equipment changes. In time, courses became outdated and misaligned with learning industry best practices. Now, the FAA is updating its training to support an influx of new talent and is capturing lessons learned from experienced air traffic professionals, such as how to handle emergencies. For the FAA to maintain a controller workforce large enough to fulfill its role managing air traffic, and adapt to how the next generation of students learns, it also had to update technical training.The Office of Safety and Technical Training is the FAA’s centralized training organization for air traffic controllers and technicians. The organization is responsible for funding, developing and coordinating the new hire and refresher national training curriculum for controllers. Before the FAA formed a centralized technical training group in 2007, it had a model in which each operations group ran its own training. The move to a centralized model was part of a strategic effort to manage training resources during the hiring surge and aggressively train a new generation of controllers. Training air traffic control students is a structured process. Students begin careers at the FAA knowing the facility where they will work, the type of air traffic they will manage such as takeoffs and landings, and that the training process to become a controller will take up to three years (Figure 1). Once in the training program, students complete three training stages: initial, qualification and post-certification (Figure 2). The training is predominately instructor-led, but the FAA also uses computer-based training and simulators to help students practice air traffic scenarios. With new learning methods such as remote learning available, the company has proactively reassessed the blend of training delivery methods to improve student proficiency and information retention.
The Next Generation of HR: What’s Wrong? What’s Right?
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