During the course of my adult working life I have been asked many times what I do for a living. My answer: I am an FAA certified A&P mechanic. Now I have other accomplishments and credentials, however my most prized accomplishment is earning this rating. Maybe it is because it was something I wanted from an early age or because it was the key to many opportunities for me and my family. I also recall the number of friends and business associates whose successful careers were launched by their A&P training and experience.
Unfortunately my enthusiasm is dampened when the recipient of this explanation displays a puzzled look and invariably responds with a host of questions starting with “I never heard of that before.” I guess most people think our industry rounds up folks at local automotive service stations and that is the basis on which private and commercial aircraft remain aloft! Sounds farfetched? Not really, when you consider our career field has literally zero visibility with the public in general and very little visibility in the educational community. This lack of visibility is the not failure of any one trade group or professional organization but rather a general malaise within our technical ranks in promoting this career choice.
Conventional wisdom fosters the idea that doctors run the hospital and hold the preeminent position in the medical field. Well it is true they play a significant role. However, look for a doctor at 10:30 at night and you will quickly realize that the nurses and a plethora of support personnel are operating the facility. Using that analogy aviation technical personnel are the force behind the scenes keeping the aircraft in the air but this is where the analogy differs. The medical profession has done an excellent job of making the public aware of career opportunities. The medical community uses every communication avenue available to promote these career fields including alliances with educational institutions and the hospitals. How often have we been presented with a barrier to conducting a simple school tour because of “insurance reasons” or “someone may get hurt”? This type of exposure is often the spark that ignites a career choice.
Management can make a difference in promoting technical career opportunitities to the next generation. It takes special effort and passion and if we do nothing we will surely have a shortfall of qualified technical personnel. The greater tragedy will be a lack of personnel because individuals do not realize this career field is available. Here are a few thoughts of how we can proactively promote career opportunities.
I always find it sad when you ask a pre-teen or teenager what your parent does at work and they do not know. Now some may not care but others had parents who never took the time to explain what they did at work. Take your child and his or her friends to work after hours, show them what you do and engender a positive attitude about your profession. Remember that little spark that ignites a career? The connection between family and work is undeniable and management should promote family involvement in the workplace.
Working at various maintenance facilities around the country I have heard a common comment from the non-aviation members of the community “I did not know they did that out at the airport” or my favorite “I wondered what all those people were doing in those hangars.”
Participating in local airport events, community services projects, and job fairs are a few examples of promoting interest in aviation within the local community. There are a few maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities that have done an excellent job in this area. We need to do more if we expect to fill future technical vacancies.
A number of years ago I was the general manager of a Midwest MRO and one of the technicians asked if his wife, who was a guidance counselor at the local high school, could host the next meeting of the regional guidance counselors association at our facility. Obviously I agreed and provided a nice lunch coupled with a detailed tour of our facility.
They were delighted, and to this day I remember their stunned reaction to the different career disciplines available to their students right in their backyard. We followed up with individual students sent to us by the guidance counselors and subsequently hired a cadre of hometown students in a multitude of disciplines. Some came in as trainees and others returned two years later after graduating from an A&P school.
Within your own company
If at all possible promote aviation careers with your own company. One size does not fit all. Regardless of whether you are a corporate flight department, an MRO, or a charter/management company we have the opportunity to expose others to a rewarding career field. Your department or division provides a valuable service so do not hesitate to welcome fellow employees and their families and expose them to the opportunities available.
In 1962 I was 13 years old and lived in Boston, not too far from Logan Airport, where seeing the big piston powered aircraft climb slowly into the sky was a daily occurrence. I was always excited to see the airplanes and started a relentless campaign with my father to get a plane ride.
My father finally agreed to take me to visit his brother in Pittsburgh albeit on the Greyhound bus. So we went to Pittsburgh and when the visit was over, and it was time to return home, much to my surprise, we arrived at the Pittsburgh Airport instead of the bus terminal.
My father had booked a flight home to Boston on TWA which included a stop in Hartford, CT (Windsor Locks/BDL). The plane was a Lockheed Super Constellation which mounted four 18-cylinder Wright R-3350 (3,250-hp) engines. It was bigger than life! As we got on board I asked my father if there would be any chance to get a look in the cockpit.
Like most parents he was one step ahead of me. So as we got on board the flight engineer said, “I hear you like airplanes. That being the case, you may want to ride up front with us to see what’s going on.” I could not believe my good fortune as I was strapped in the jump seat wearing a big headset. We were off to Boston with an interim stop. In Windsor Locks, the flight engineer said he had to inspect the plane before we could take off for Boston and would I like to help him.
It was now night, so he handed an extra flashlight to me and out we went to perform what I would learn years later was a preflight inspection which I would perform many times in my career. As “we” looked the airplane over I asked him exactly what he did and he said he was a flight mechanic but now they call me a flight engineer.
I asked him if he likes his job. I’ll never forget his response “fixing and flying on airplanes is the greatest thing you will ever do.” Well that was my inspiration and the spark that ignited a lifelong love of aviation and a great career. As managers, we have an opportunity to inspire both on and off the job. Let’s all strive to be like the old flight engineer and “pay it forward” for the next generation.
John Rahilly has over 36 years of aviation service experience. Based in North Carolina, you can reach him at email@example.com.