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Hiring reform changes the flight line game

Maintenance Airmen working on the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, flight line.

Maintenance Airmen working on the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, flight line.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

Hiring initiatives at the 926th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron have accelerated readiness, taking full-time manning from 30 percent to almost 100 percent in just over two years.

The 926th AMXS struggled to hire even non-qualified maintainers prior to implementing innovative hiring initiatives.

Direct hiring authority, conversion of military-tied positions to straight civilian positions, and recruiting, relocation and retention incentives, have enabled the squadron to be viable players in a competitive contractor environment on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

“These hiring initiatives have allowed us to have one of the best hiring trend lines in the Reserve Command for maintenance,” said Lt. Col. George Cole, 926th AMXS, deputy commander for maintenance.

Knowing salary is a major recruiting and retention factor, the squadron has been working on approving a special salary rate for nearly three years.

“We are never going to outspend the big contractors at Nellis on salary, but we will get in the ballpark and combined with our benefits and job satisfaction, it allows us to be competitive,” said Cole.

The SSR was recently approved, making the 926th AMXS even more financially competitive with the local civilian contractors.

Another major problem facing the squadron, prior to aggressively pursuing Air Force Reserve Command hiring initiatives, was an employment timeline covered in red tape.

“We would lose people all the time before,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Brunin, 926th Aircraft Maintenance superintendent.

In the past the 926th AMXS hiring process could take anywhere from 180 days to over a year in extreme cases. The inability to quickly and efficiently hire individuals meant a huge loss for the squadron when it came to attracting qualified maintainers.

“When you are trying to hire someone and they have their families to think about, it’s hard to get them to hang on when you’re telling them you’re not going to pay them for months,” said Brunin.

With the power of DHA the squadron can now take a maintainer who they know has experience and hire them within 30 days from start to finish. The fastest they have been able to complete the process was around two weeks.

“The direct hire is awesome for readiness,” said Brunin. “It eliminates the need to go through the competitive hiring process on USAJobs, which has gotten faster over the last year, but can still take up to a couple of months.”

Brunin said they still have competitive hires in place and only exercise DHA when they have a qualified person in mind. When using the DHA they look at objective factors such as skill levels, general experience and airframe experience to make an objective hiring decision.

Another important change has been the straight civilian hiring initiative. This initiative has allowed the squadron to separate the military requirement in up to 25 percent of the maintenance jobs in order to open the positions to civilians.

“When you put on there, ‘you must have a military qualification’ that eliminates a whole gene pool of knowledge,” said Brunin. “A lot of your core knowledge is that person that has worked 20 years in the military and they want to continue working.”

While the conversion has not been an easy road, with the first converted position taking 29 signatures and a lot of higher headquarters coordination over six months, it has vastly expanded the job knowledge and long-term flight line leadership within the squadron.

Cole said on average their civilian maintainers have over 16 years of active duty time, many being former senior noncommissioned officers with veteran instructor experience.

While having straight civilian positions expands the qualified candidate pool, it does not eliminate the need for the air reserve technician program.

“We don’t want to kill the ART program,” said Brunin. “We can always link a straight civilian position back to a military position.”

The 926th AMXS is currently the only unit in the Air Force that is now 25 percent straight civilians.

In the end, the manning results have been a huge success for the readiness of the 926th AMXS and the Air Force Reserve Command.

“The end game is about, readiness,” said Brunin. “If I don’t get jets in the air, good guys die, bad guys don’t.”