A&Ps: The Female Workforce

According to data released from the FAA, there are 5,734 certificated women mechanics and 1,800 repairmen compared to a total of 313,032 certificated mechanics.


Experience

Nicole Cagnolatti is an example of what you can do with the right attitude and talent. She received training from Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa, California. She took the Airframe & Powerplant course plus got a certificate in its avionics course, over a two-year period. Cagnolatti received her powerplant and airframe certificates last year. "It took me longer to get my actual licenses because I went away to take my scholarship training."

And she's taken advantage of what is available in terms of scholarships. So far she's received 14 aircraft maintenance (plus one flight training) related scholarships in the last 2.5 years.

Cagnolatti's scholarships from Women in Aviation and AWAM include factory training for the Lear 31a at Bombardier in Texas; Citation V training at CAE SimuFlite in Texas; Pratt & Whitney training on the PW530A/535A Turbofan engine in Montreal, Canada; and Abaris for composite training in Reno, Nevada. And, she also won an AWAM scholarship from Aviation Learning for maintenance-related training courses on CD-ROM that helped her prepare for the actual A&P test.

Besides the scholarships, Cagnolatti's participated in two internships, one while in school and one right after which provided practical experience in general aviation. Other experiences include being a member of the AWAM team at the Professional Aviation Maintenance Olympics for the past two years and being a private pilot with a multi engine rating with more than 370 hours. She's currently a technical instructor at Abaris.

And looking at the experiences of someone who has been an A&P since 1987, Robin Lamar says, "Managers, co-workers, and the nontraditional employee need to be able to evaluate the stresses created by subtle differences in expectations. Gender can create unnecessary tension in the workplace. It can also add an important reminder that being different isn't the issue - it's working together with our different strengths, weaknesses, and skill levels that keep the planes flying. A hangar is definitely its own subculture. Women add to the hangar culture, they don't take away from it."

Challenges

Challenges? The industry is full of them and especially for women entering a field dominated by men.

Here are some of Cagnolatti experiences: "I found that most my challenges happened in the field. When you're in school for the first few weeks you are going to have trouble with the guys in your class because you are the "black sheep" of the bunch. Once you get to know them and you see them everyday, things change. You have your group you hang out with and things are good.

"However, once I left school I found the situation of getting along a bit different. I dealt with a lot of 'old school guys' who thought I should be home in the kitchen baking cookies getting cooking grease on me not oil and grease from under a dirty aircraft. I found that I had to play dumb for awhile and then when I learned a few things I didn't give them any slack and proved my worth on the floor. There will be a day when they need your help, it's inevitable, and once they learn about you they are OK with you.

"Growing up," Cagnolatti says, "I had many challenges because I was young, a minority, and a female plus I had a lot of drive and it made people jealous. They gave me a lot of trouble back then but I made it through their tests and came out much stronger on the other side."

And other challenges, according to Lamar: "The financial upheaval of the major airlines in the last 15 years has been an emotional and financial challenge. It's rough to live with uncertainty for months and months at a time. The rumor mill can wear you down.

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