DfT investigates young people’s perception of aviation

The UK Government’s Department for Transport has published research on the perception young adults and adolescents have of the aviation industry. Ilaria Grasso Macola delves into the report to find out what young people really think of aviation.

The UK Government’s Department for Transport (DfT) published a research paper on the perception young people have of the aviation industry on 31 August.

Commissioned by the DfT, the research was born out of the industry’s struggle to attract new talent, which consequently reduces the availability of skills within the industry and hinders the sector’s economic potential.

The research, which aimed to understand what kind of aviation knowledge young people have and what barriers prevent more youngsters from entering the sector, was carried out in three phases.

The first phase involved a 2,326-people survey, with the second and third using focus groups and in-depth interviews respectively.

This is not the first time the UK Government has tried to fill in the industry’s gaps. It previously invested in programmes such as ‘Reach for the Sky’ – which aims to attract under-represented groups by working together with aviation industry partners.

What do they know about aviation?

What emerges from the data is that the majority of young people know very little about aviation, especially its daily operations, with only 10% of respondents stating they know quite a lot.

Among those who said they know quite a lot about the aviation sector and what it entails, the majority said that they learned what they know mainly through internet searches or aviation professionals.

Exposure to aviation is the main channel through which young people get a more in-depth understanding of what people working in aviation do and that can come about in many ways. This includes having family members or friends that work in the sector, living near airports or aviation facilities and engaging in aviation-related activities, such as shows and fairs.

Overall, 51% of young people – the majority of who are young white males – have had some kind of exposure to aviation, as one in six people has close family or friends working in the sector. On the other hand, those who live near airports or aviation facilities represent only 30%.

Is aviation a popular career path among young people?

When asked if they would like to pursue a career in aviation, 51% of young people said they wouldn’t. The reasons not to include lack of interest in the industry and aviation’s perceived social characteristics.

The perception of aviation as a traditionally male-dominated industry is reflected in the way women are less likely to say they know about the sector and therefore don’t apply as much.

The same thing can be seen in the way people with disabilities feel excluded from the conversation when it comes to entering aviation’s labour market.

In addition to gender inequalities, aviation is perceived to be an industry where race and class issues are at play. 41% of those who participated in the survey are negatively influenced by the perceived lack of diversity, with numbers increasing among BAME adolescents and young adults.

A career in aviation is also considered too expensive, especially when it comes to pilot training, as most believe that becoming a pilot is a possibility for only wealthy people.

“How do people become pilots? How do you get airtime? You need to be quite wealthy,” was said by a member of a focus group that involved BAME 16 to 24-year-olds.

Other factors that play against aviation are the disastrous impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on airlines and airports as well as the sector’s carbon footprint, especially for women and LGBTQI+ individuals.

What can the industry do to lower the barriers?

To attract fresh talent, aviation needs to ramp up its image as an interesting and diverse place to work and increase the exposure and awareness around it, especially when it comes to the different careers available, as a first step.

Emphasising more behind-the-scenes roles can help attract a younger demographic, especially by leveraging the interest young people express towards STEM.

According to what emerged from the study, aviation should frame these roles as a way for fresh talent to work with cutting-edge technologies focusing on the jobs’ practical aspects. Money also emerged as one of the main factors that can direct career choice so posting job ads with the salary will help recruitment.

If it really wants to address the lack of gender and racial diversity and attract new talent, the aviation industry should invest in representing more marginalised groups, adopting the means of communications younger demographics use.

“The seemingly most effective platforms for young people learning about careers (internet, professionals, careers fairs) can be used,” reads the research.

“[And] to address lack of diversity in the field, information sharing should include meaningful representation of people from marginalised groups.”