The Letter

Career advice to high school seniors

As I write this article the good news is that the Democratic primary fight is over. The bad news is now the Republicans and Democrats are going to fight a verbal and media war 24/7 for the next four months on who is best suited to run the country. And they say water-boarding is torture.

Bad news is not restricted just to the field of politics. Ever since 9/11, aviation has had its share of problems. In June, Continental Airlines announced it is laying off 3,000 employees. Delta and Northwest airlines are in the process of merging into one giant airline. But they say they are not going to lay anyone off. Call me a cynic, but that one will be a first.

Because of the high price of fuel all airlines are cutting back on routes and number of flights so you have to buy your tickets way early and hope there is not a weather or maintenance delay. With the profit margins so thin, the airlines are trying to get every nickel from you just to stay in the black. You now have to pay for your bags to arrive at the same time you do. Even the complimentary bag of peanuts has gone the way of the dodo. One figures, that it is only a matter of time until seat belts and flotation devices will cost extra.

Being exposed to all the negative media about aviation for so long, it is no wonder that the number of Part 147 trained A&P mechanics certificated by the FAA declined from 7,162 in 2002 to 4,678 in 2006. So the bad news from where we stand is we are not attracting young people into our profession and with all the front page news bad mouthing aviation you cannot blame them for looking at other careers.

After reading all the bad press few high school seniors are going to enter a career field which has all the appearances of coming apart at the seams like a wet paper bag. Plus, being an aviation mechanic is not as sexy as being a pilot complete with a toothy grin, big watch, and wearing the four stripes of power.

Industry still needs mechanics
The really crazy part of this equation is the industry still need mechanics! While the airlines have never really solved the problems brought on by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and continue to downsize or merge and the employment picture does not look so good; large Part 145 repair stations and aerospace manufacturers are booming and they need mechanics. This need is not just a blip on their radar screen. They are well aware that the majority of their workforce is made up of baby boomers and in less than five years most will hit retirement age. So they will have to hire mechanics at a steady rate for the next five to 10 years to handle growth and loss of employees to retirement.

I am proud of my profession and I think it is one of the greatest careers for anyone who likes the technical challenge of flight and is not afraid to get his hands dirty. But we mechanics have to look at the problem realistically. While we are good technically at our craft, we are lousy at promoting it.

Recruit one-on-one
Since the majority of A&P schools actively recruit high school seniors starting as early as September of each year, I think it is appropriate that these are the people that we should first get in touch with.

Please be aware of my intentions. No way am I saying that I am better at recruiting than Part 147 schools. What I hope to do is show other mechanics by example that we all should recruit new mechanics one-on-one to enter into our profession, be it by word of mouth, email, letter, or an invitation to see a hangar with work in progress.

Since I am a little long in the tooth, I must admit that I am not familiar with iPod, YouTube, Innertube, BlackBerry, strawberry, text messaging, or other wireless forms of communications used by today’s high school students. So for my example today I will stick with a straightforward letter that requires only a stamp to get it where it has to go and doesn’t need a battery to make it work.

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