General aviation mechanics looking to move into corporate jet maintenance, or even the airlines, frequently ask me, how to make the transition. Often they’re frustrated because when a job does open up, it requires experience in the aircraft. So the question I’m often asked is: How do I get the experience if I can’t be hired without that experience? I was most recently asked that question in an email from an AMT reader.
While this is a problem for every new generation of A&Ps, it is not a new problem. My colleagues and I faced the same dilemma more than 40 years ago.
The problem, of course, is exacerbated in a bad economy. So here are some suggestions to consider:
1. Go where the jobs are. Yes, getting experience may require moving — at least temporarily — to an area of the country or even the world where there’s a shortage of mechanics. Labor shortages mean that mechanics without the aircraft-specific skills stand a better chance of getting hired, especially at large repair stations in those areas.
As a 19-year-old mechanic with a brand new A&P certificate, I had to leave my hometown of Boston and go to New York to get my first job working on large aircraft. It wasn’t easy even then to leave friends and family in Boston. It took three years of moving to various parts of the country before I finally had the experience to land a job at Logan International Airport.
Right now, I’m hearing that repair stations in Oklahoma and North Carolina are facing labor shortages and are hiring mechanics with little or no experience. There may be opportunities there for new A&Ps.
2. Consider large facilities that do heavy maintenance. While many mechanics like the challenge of working in small facilities with a variety of work and greater independence, getting jet or large aircraft experience may necessitate a move to a large facility. Since some of these facilities have high turnover rates for one reason or another, it may be easier for a new A&P without a lot of experience to get hired and gain the experience he or she needs.
3. Get the skills that are most in demand. Today, corporate jet and large aircraft maintenance departments need A&Ps with a strong background in avionics. Most new A&Ps lack the skills necessary to work on critical electronic components. A GA mechanic who hones his/her skills in avionics — even on general aviation aircraft — will have an edge when looking at openings for corporate jet or airline maintenance jobs.
One Part 147 maintenance school I know of in Pittsburgh, PA, offers a formal avionics training program, after the FAA-required A&P curriculum. Graduates of this additional training program have landed corporate and airline jobs right out of school.
4. Get your foot in the door. Sometimes getting a non-mechanic position at a facility that does the kind of maintenance you aspire to is a way to demonstrate your attributes as an employee and to meet people within the company that can help you with your job goals. In addition, current employees often have an advantage when looking to upgrade their position within a facility.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. I’d be interested in knowing whether any of them work for you. AMT
John Goglia has 40 years experience in the aviation industry. He was the first NTSB board member to hold an FAA aircraft mechanic’s certificate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.