Do Your Homework

We can do our future selves, and the future of aviation safety, a favor by starting today.

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This past July, I issued a “homework assignment” to ARSA members (and anyone else willing to accept the challenge): Go teach at a local school.

I wasn’t advocating a career change — quite the opposite. It’s time for the maintenance community to open its doors and show off the good work and great opportunity behind them. For the sake of good corporate citizenship and long-term workforce development, there are plenty of reasons for aviation businesses to become familiar to the students and families in their local communities.

There are many ways to build these relationships. It can mean supporting existing activities through sponsorship or volunteerism, participating in career days or visits and hosting field trips or other kinds of open houses for local students. Use whatever means you can find to let students get to know you and even build interest in your work (so they can do it someday).

This particular spin — the “teaching” challenge — came with the assistance of the FAA’s STEM Aviation and Space Education (AVSED) Outreach Program. AVSED’s mission was born in 1935, when the Department of Commerce Bureau of Air Commerce began working with the National Education Association. The Outreach Program itself was created in 1961 — a pretty inspiring time to for aspiring aerospace professionals — and its continued work depends on active support from industry.

The AVSED website (www.faa.gov/education) has information about the program’s various resources, activities and references. It’s worth reviewing and passing along to colleagues and industry contacts, but only if that review and related circulation results in action. So, to return to the challenge at hand, let’s prepare you for your classroom debut.

All it takes is a willingness to invest the time and energy to contact and visit (or arrange to host) local students, risk the potential frustration of coordinating a group of young children and commit to being available to help them continue their aviation learning. I suggest starting with lower elementary — kindergartners provide a friendly, if distractible audience that you can visit and make an impact on for years to come — and following a few basic steps:

(1) Review the AVSED resources for educators (www.faa.gov/education/educators) and students (www.faa.gov/education/students). (2) If you don’t already know any, find nearby schools. The National Center for Education Statistics has an online system for searching public school districts: nces.ed.gov/ccd/districtsearch. (3) Pick a school or schools and call the administration(s), explaining your goals and asking for the right point of contact. (4) Determine their level of interest and consider your own time and capability. You can offer to have your own team members visit for a “special activity” session for certain classes or simply help connect teachers with AVSED resources. (5) Do it. If your own team is going to “teach.” Just pick an activity — a good place to start is www.faa.gov/education/students/activities  — print out whatever instructions or activity sheets you need, bring along any additional tools (or props from work you can show off) and go walk through it with the kids (Of course, nobody knows your work better than you, so feel free to invent your own, better teaching tools…just be sure to share them). (6) Contact local media, highlight the experience through your own communication channels or use any other way you can to celebrate the activity. (7) Follow up. Especially if you’ve just shared resources with the school, but even if you went there personally. Don’t make your engagement a one-time activity. (I also recommend sharing your gratitude with any of your own team members that took part.) (8) Tell ARSA about it.

Getting into a classroom is a great way to put a face on your work and begin the long effort of building a generation of technical-skill minded personnel. It can also be the starting point for much longer and more fulfilling relationships. If you want to pursue more in-depth opportunities, AVSED has been collaborating with the Flight Standards Service to provide guidelines and assistance for job shadowing and apprenticeships (with National Apprenticeship Week happening in November each year, the late fall and early winter is a great time to think about developing such opportunities).

This is a long game: facing a recruitment crisis and the looming retirement of many experienced technicians, having patience to build relationships and connections that may not pay off for a decade or more can be challenging. It has to be done, though, because we got into this mess by letting too many children grow up without personal experience in aviation and other technical careers.  

If you have any questions about school outreach in specific or career development efforts in general, send me an email.

Brett Levanto is vice president of operations of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, P.L.C. managing firm and client communications in conjunction with regulatory and legislative policy initiatives. He provides strategic and logistical support for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association

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