While recently undertaking an archeological dig in my own home we unearthed a box containing among other things, certificates of training for the numerous courses and seminars I have attended over the years. This discovery prompted me to start thinking about what I had really learned.
There are the obvious self-taught lessons like cleaning grime off an electrical outlet using a wet steel wool pad without first turning off the electrical power (please do not try this on your own). There are also the lessons learned while troubleshooting a complex problem. The manufacturer’s technical support group inevitably advises you to first replace the most expensive component and this advice becomes more prevalent once the warranty has expired.
Contemplating the training programs I have attended also got me thinking about all the truly great educators I have encountered along with the standardized folks, their canned lesson plans and ideas that an airplane is an airplane. This concept reminded me of the fast food restaurant mentality; some of these courses, like their culinary counterparts, provide little nutritional value.
The premise of being trained in my profession is not necessarily a consoling thought. Training, by definition, is “the act of becoming proficient at a task through instruction and repetition.” I do believe there still exists a need for this kind of activity in preparing aircraft technicians of today but perhaps a better idea would be to impart knowledge for the purpose of promoting thought. After all, even with the most sophisticated diagnostic tools, it is still the human mind that must assimilate all pertinent data and decide what action is relevant. Activating the onboard diagnostic system is one example of a task that requires training to become proficient at its use while education will provide the knowledge necessary to understand the relevance of the diagnostic report.
What does the FAA say?
So just what does the Federal Aviation Administration say about training to maintain proficiency as an avionics technician? Well if I worked for an air carrier or a repair station, my employer would have the obligation to develop and conduct a program that would be acceptable to the Administrator. As I am employed (on my day job) by a business aviation Part 91 operator, the FAA leaves us to our own devices regarding the training accomplished.
A need for the soft skills
One revelation is that aircraft technicians have a need for soft skills such as communications, risk management, teamwork, and human factors.
Those kinds of skills are not required by the regulations or even to become an A&P mechanic but they are essential to becoming more effective in any career.
Coursework in these skills can build respect, professionalism, confidence, and increased safety. This is good for the individual as well as the employer. Many of these programs can be achieved through participation in FAASTeam events. If not available through the workplace, try a community college or university. As a professional, it just isn’t possible to have too much education and the payoff may surface in unexpected ways.
In recent years I have become very selective of the programs I attend. My quest is for the tribal knowledge that only comes from real-life experiences relayed by well-versed professionals. Another objective is to find a program where the other attendees are skilled and willing to share their perspectives.
The first lesson I have learned is that there is no higher priority than personal safety and those of us involved in the repair and maintenance of aircraft systems are without doubt in a high risk profession. One prudent step is to become acquainted with the various cautions and warnings published in maintenance and support documents.
Caution typically implies injury or damage while warning means possibility of death.
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Technicians who have become involuntarily unemployed this year may be eligible for free training.