Career Development in a Down Economy

Let’s be honest — career development for mechanics has always required a lot more initiative and self-starting than say an entry-level, white collar job at IBM or Xerox, the original leaders in formalized, employee job advancement. In those organizations, once you got into a trainee program, career development followed predetermined steps through the company.

I’m not aware of too many airlines or repair stations, large or small, that have ever had those kinds of programs for maintenance workers. Add a down economy to the mix and mechanics have an even greater challenge.

But challenges are what separate the wheat from the chaff — or the future leads, supervisors, directors of maintenance, VPs, and even company presidents from the everyday, worker-bees. Getting ahead in these times means planning ahead and actively seeking opportunities to hone valuable skills and take on leadership opportunities — often by volunteering for additional assignments. There may not be much or any money in these volunteer assignments, but opportunities for personal and professional growth can be immeasurable.

Safety committees

If you’re lucky enough to work in a unionized workplace (yes, I firmly believe unions provide tremendous benefits to both employees and organizations such as promoting safety practices beneficial to employers and the public, as well as employees) then volunteer opportunities abound, especially in the safety arena. Even without a union, most large employers have safety committees that you can volunteer to participate in. And if your organization doesn’t have one, it’s never too late to approach management to start one.

Safety committees give you the opportunity to learn best practices, problem-solve maintenance issues collaboratively, raise important safety matters to management’s attention, and assist in their resolution. Of course, working your way up to committee chair is a proven way of demonstrating the types of leadership skills that can translate into job promotion.

Accident/incident investigations

I can’t say enough about the importance of working on these teams. I know I never would have been considered for the position as an NTSB member if I had not had years of working on such a team at USAir. Working on accidents, especially tragedies with loss of life, draws on all your professional and emotional resources. Critical thinking and organizational skills are tested in the wake of an incident or accident. Working with others to get to the bottom of what happened in an emotionally charged atmosphere of grief tests you and all those around you — and develops critical people skills that will serve you well in future supervisory and leadership roles.

FAA and other organizations

Developing critical job skills can take place outside your own workplace. For example, working collaboratively with the FAA and aviation sponsors on Safety Days and Airport Career Days can build leadership skills but also provide great opportunities for mentoring young people — and for being mentored by others in the aviation industry. Volunteering (paid jobs are few and far between) at a professional maintenance organization, such as AMTSociety, can also enrich your experiences and expand your skills.

In the end, career development opportunities are there for those with the initiative to take advantage of them. You can set yourself apart from other candidates by seeking these opportunities and using them to burnish your resume. And you will be a better mechanic for the effort!