To grow sustainably, the Africa and the Middle East region needs to address the skills gap today, writes Muhammad Ali Albakri, Regional Vice President.

Aviation is a vital economic driver in Africa and the Middle East (AME), supporting more than six million jobs and over $55 billion in economic activity. And over the next 20 years, passenger demand in the region is set to double. This creates significant opportunities for aviation.

Despite these strong figures, the operating environment remains challenging. Financially, airlines in the region are seeing profits eroded and margins squeezed. The anticipated average profit per passenger globally in 2019 will reach $7.75. In the Middle East, though, it is predicted to be just $3.30 per passenger and in Africa carriers will lose $3.51 per passenger.

To sustainably accommodate the growth in demand for air transport, the region must therefore address key challenges. Confirming safety and security are at world-class levels is a top priority. Similarly, there is a need for better infrastructure and to drive cost efficiencies across operations. Specific to Africa, governments must be made aware of a harmonized regulatory framework to support enhanced connectivity.

Though the industry is best suited to addressing the current specialist knowledge and skills gaps, we are dependent on governments to put in place the right environment to create the future talent that the sector needs

One issue looms large above all. We need people with the right skills and experience across all aspects of the business—to manage the business, to fly and maintain aircraft, to operate the airport systems, and to provide air navigation services.

According to Airbus, in the next 20 years the world’s global fleet will double to 48,000 aircraft. That means more than 500,000 pilots are needed, as well as an even greater number of technicians and engineers to maintain these aircraft. Clearly, the ability of AME aviation to reach its potential will hinge on creating a professional, skilled, and sustainable workforce.

There are good private-sector initiatives underway and IATA is committed to continuous training through IATA Training and the IATA Airline Training Fund in Africa. Already this year, 1573 people have participated in IATA Training and 400 African aviation professionals have benefited from the fund. However, to achieve the scale and sustainability required for future growth, a more collaborative and concerted effort is required.

Though the industry is best suited to addressing the current specialist knowledge and skills gaps, we are dependent on governments to put in place the right environment to create the future talent that the sector needs. Collaboration is needed to create education systems that produce significantly greater numbers of young people with the technical and IT skills the industry needs and the life skills necessary to be employable.

Today’s economies are increasingly knowledge-based and technology-driven. So, governments will benefit from working together with the industry because the jobs created will develop much-needed abilities. Moreover, the salaries these abilities command will be a huge boost to economies.

New technologies are spawning new ways of working, and we cannot easily predict what tomorrow’s jobs will entail. But preparing the next generation with the capacity for lifelong learning will allow them to adapt to a rapidly evolving economy.

If AME can meet the future demand for highly skilled aviation roles, it will benefit from increased GDP growth, investment in jobs and ultimately, enjoy the prosperity aviation can generate. Given the demographics, there is even potential for AME to become a global aviation training center—meeting its market needs and exporting skilled labor to other regions.

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