We often think of moving up in our careers as requiring advanced or specialized skills in our field. We often look for training or courses that allow us to work on larger or more complex aircraft or systems. To that end, I often counsel mechanics to add avionics and electronics to their skill sets as a necessary tool for future opportunities. Aircraft operate more and more via computerized systems and today a mechanic needs computer training to be able to remain competitive in his/her field.
But at the same time, many mechanics – myself included – have at some point in our careers realized that to move up the ladder, we need to improve some basic skills – like reading and writing. Of course mechanics need to be able to read and write to perform their jobs. They need to be able to read and follow detailed technical instructions and fill out maintenance and other logs, clearly enough for any one reading or auditing the records to understand exactly what the mechanic did to a particular aircraft or component part.
Reading more than manuals
Yet, mechanics who want to move up the management ladder need to be able to read and understand more than just technical manuals and be able to write more than logbook entries. In particular, moving into supervisory and management positions usually means being able to articulate maintenance issues or needs to an audience not intimately familiar with maintenance.
For example, a supervisor may have to write up budget justifications and incident or accident reports, including government inquiries from the FAA, OSHA, the Airport Authority, and other agencies. With the cutbacks in administrative and human resource personnel, maintenance supervisors and managers are often left on their own to fill out government paperwork. And since maintenance is a 24/7 operation, problems that require written reports can occur at times when 9-5 employees are off duty and unavailable for assistance.
Mechanics with the skills to write up reports and communicate effectively orally and in writing will clearly have an edge on those who don’t when supervisory and management positions need to be filled. I realized early on in my career that I needed to improve my writing skills. Let’s face it, most of us become mechanics because we enjoy knowing how things work and repairing things that don’t work. We were not English majors and never wanted to be. But in order to get promoted we may well have to hone our reading and writing (and other communication skills, such as public speaking) to fit a broader audience.
I took a technical writing course which taught me the basics of writing technical information in a way that others could understand it. This served me well when I began managing a crew of mechanics and had to prepare written reports for my boss. Of course, I had no idea at the time that I took my technical writing course, how critical writing and orally communicating would become when I was appointed by the President to the National Transportation Safety Board.
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.