Industry Viewpoint

Sept. 17, 2010
Let’s take the path of professional advancement

Training, really?

Training … (noun) acquiring of skill, the process of teaching or learning a skill or job.

Not surprising, our technical education is branded on us as training from the very beginning. To gain a foothold in professional advancement we need to stop, think, change our lexicon, and teach others who we really are, aviation maintenance professionals.

We spend two years (1,900 hours) learning the basic FAA Part 147 regulated curriculum followed by oral tests, written tests, and practical tests after going in hock to the tune of 33K, 50K if you attach an associate degree to the mix. We are then told by everyone in the aviation industry this is training. We buy it.

Then after three years experience in the industry we take a deep dive into the CFR 14 Part whatever they throw at us followed by yet another round of written and oral tests conducted by the very government body that regulates us to gain our IA certificate having spent some more precious coin. Once again we were trained.

If that is a reasonable start many spend more time and effort to gain their own FCC GROL to prove they have an understanding of avionics. Too bad the FAA never recognized that especially to the ones who gained their FCC 2nd Class followed by a 1st Class FCC with a radar endorsement. These folks spent another fortune plus two more years of time still not being endorsed by anyone in the aviation industry except the airlines who sometimes paid as much as 50 cents per hour for this highly won prize. Oh yeah, some get another associate degree from it.

Yet we are still told and we believe this is training.

Through this gauntlet we ran … no education for our careers but being highly training! Much to the credit of airlines I’ve stored over 2-inch-thick books of training accomplished by my peers produced when I hired them. That training took more than 10 years to accomplish. Much to the credit of general aviation’s elite corporate flight departments we gain another 2-inch-thick book of certificates over 10 sometimes 30 years. Still we are trained.

I’m still not through. Today there comes through much toil and effort the first industry-certified avionics technician program via a trustful and dedicated few called NCATT, the National Center of Aerospace and Transportation Technologies originally sponsored by none other than the National Science Foundation. There’s another article to write about the need for industry sponsorship of this very special entity but someone will have to call me and ask to write it. It is a keystone of our professional advance plan. Many of you write Eli Cotti at NBAA and ask for training advice or how Project Bootstrap is doing or where you get training for Project Bootstrap. PB is the professional career advancement program offered by the NBAA Maintenance Committee, which I currently have the honor of chairing.

Not through yet. I have not yet mentioned the many who have gained composite repair certification, welding certification, NDT certification at three different levels, inspection certification, human factors training, MRO required recurrent training, military aviation training for rank and job position, flight training and FAA FAASTeam training. Kudos to my new aviation department team partners for recently accomplishing on boarding training as new hires at our corporate flight department and flight technician training. The same to the high seniority technicians at the flight department I work for. They are planning advanced Master Avionics education called training to gain their NCATT AET certificates. There is also management training and NBAA CAM training. I could add much more but that would be piling on, ready for NextGen?

Education, now we’re talking

Education … (noun) the imparting and acquiring of knowledge through teaching and learning.

Here comes the switch. Pilots go to flight school, ground school, and all the degree programs to gain an education in an accepted profession. They eventually attain their ATPs after much effort, time, and money and God bless them for serving this country in harm’s way if that was their path. The same could be said about technicians serving as well. Let’s not forget Wayne Bailey’s call for consideration and respect this last July 4th for all of them. Pilots gain an education, most attain a four-year BS degree from numerous institutions across the country.

ATPs are considered and compared to master’s degrees in our culture. They have careers built on a solid foundation of an education. By the way they do attend recurrent training. This is the model to gain recognition as a professional and a way to explain the difference to you in hopes we agree to alter our language. This starts us down the path in a new direction, the path of professional advancement.

Education prepares one for life, not just a behavior or job. As AMPs (aviation maintenance professionals) we get an education and are trained on specific aircraft or systems or techniques and procedures. We broaden our scope with experience, promotions, and add value to our employers or our businesses’ bottom line. We accumulate education later in life which is the Advanced Education phase. Many of my colleagues gain advanced degrees in other fields like business, engineering, or law. If you count yourself in the above section on training you have no golden wrapper called a college degree, but you have exerted more Hector Pascal’s of effort and more years of service with integrity. Let’s address the real problem.

The problem is us. We do not represent ourselves very well and the world listens closely to what we say and how we look. When we accept training as opposed to education in our language we are seen by the world as lower in the pecking order. On the other hand when it comes to getting value from us consider the following. We are esteemed in aviation as the holders of the high moral ground; we are humble, filled with integrity, and mostly loyal to a fault. As I said in so many other articles we serve everyone except ourselves.

Do you ever read or post to the NBAA Airmail Maintenance site. Sometimes it takes a long look into the mirror to see what others are seeing. Our education is treasured there, many come to ask questions and receive answers at the same time offering their thanks. No wonder we experience an identity crisis at times. One day we’re a hero the next we’re a zero.

Just this week I was following a thread on NBAA airmail and admiring the Q&A from a distance. My pride was interrupted by an offended colleague. The root cause of the offense was a clip from an advertisement in a very prominent professional pilot publication and promotes a powerplant survey.

I am one very thick-skinned individual with a win-win disposition and I don’t find this ubiquitous kind of negative imagery the least bit funny. It is everywhere including a very popular and helpful corporate flight department newsletter that recently depicted an aviation maintenance professional with a similar styled cartoon juxtaposed against an adjoining article of a pilot who looks like a GQ political candidate running for some office with “of course” the flag waving in the background.

Solutions to our perception problem

The following solutions to the barriers in front of us for professional advancement are not entirely or maybe not even partially mine. They have been discussed at length by scattered groups of us including groups hosted by the FAA. You should know that as recent as last June we (NBAA Maintenance Committee) were invited by Phil Randall (FAA FAASTeam leader) to hold our meeting in Lakeland, FL, at the FAA’s media center. During the meeting Phil explained a need to partner with us to help spread the message that findings to official studies into technician noncompliance have revealed the No. 2 cause to be: lack of career direction. That is why I’m writing this article through the vehicle of changing lexicon to change our history.

Please call Randall if you are curious about the No. 1 cause. He is passionate about our industry and works from the FAA to bring professional advancement to fruition. He is a great partner in the movement.

1. Realize that we are struggling with our own perception of who we are. We need to pick a direction, band together and get the education needed to chart our own final course to professional advancement.

2. Realize that our path can be determined by us, the solution finders of everybody else’s problems.

3. Overcome the amazing fact that we are not on an individual journey to advance our profession.

4. Communicate.

5. Alter our language-lexicon. Talk the talk of educated people and walk the walk of good work, integrity in all we do. Reread the Flight Safety Foundation creed and see how you stack up.

6. Dress well, clean up thoroughly. Get some coaching in this area.

7. Teach others your knowledge for in doing so you will see your education manifest itself in a new way.

8. Join the newly forming “Community of Leaders” in our industry.

9. Attend IA renewals in your area sponsored by AMTSociety and gain advanced education.

10. Join your local FSDO FAASTeam.

Many of you read and sit on information presented in these pages. That is not OK. That is why we are still floundering on our journey. I used to wonder who could make changes and how that might happen while reading these same pages of topics written over and over again by educated and dedicated people. Then I moved to find them even criticize some of their ideas and motives. Caught up in the heat of the moment I joined them, was educated by them, and now find myself almost through the looking glass on the verge of making some hay with a new generation of colleagues pointing the way to some distant waypoint on the horizon. We call that point “Aircraft Asset Management” Strategic Focus Team within the structure of the NBAA organization.

We are creating new curriculum off a new platform that sharpens the educational tools industry and academia need to fill out aviation maintenance professionalism. We’ve inspired colleges to create degree programs for the first time for aviation maintenance professionals partnering with NCATT, Embry Riddle, Kansas State, and soon more to come. We’re talking to our colleagues in Europe, trying to understand why they would have to be bureaucratically forced into training and being typed when it is a new education we need for a new career, new aircraft, and new future.

We’ll make some small measure of progress without you and your efforts if you choose to sit on this information. We anticipate working with you and the wonderful diversity of education combined with experience you bring to the table. We intend to complete this part of our journey to professional advancement. 

Brad Townsend is the Chairman of NBAA Maintenance Committee and has been involved in Project Bootstrap.