Round Table Follow-up: Where are they now? Successes and struggles of last year's A&P graduates

Aug. 1, 2003

Round Table Follow-up
Where are they now? Successes and struggles of last year's A&P graduates

By Joe Escobar

Last year, I visited Blackhawk Technical College, a Part 147 school, to talk with five students who were getting ready to graduate. We discussed their school experiences as well as thoughts and concerns about the aviation industry. It was a tough time to be entering the aviation career field, and they were full of thoughts concerning what might lay ahead. I recently caught up with those graduates and talked to them about their first year in aviation. They shared the successes and struggles that they faced this last year. This is their story.Right place at the right time The first follow-up was with Jerry. Out of the group, Jerry is the one who got a job first. Right after graduating from school, Jerry went to Tennessee to visit his family. While there, he decided to look around and see if any jobs were available. One of the places he visited was a charter operation that happened to be looking for a mechanic. He has been working there ever since. Working on Lear 24's and 25's, with some Falcons on the way, Jerry does a variety of work. "We do ramp work, fueling, and maintenance. We do it all," he says. Jerry says the most difficult part of starting off is getting familiar with the aircraft and all the specific systems. His favorite part of the job is getting to work on turbine aircraft. "The part I liked about school was the turbine work," he says. "I really wasn't looking forward to working on recips or anything like that." When asked about his least favorite part of the job, he's quick to say, "That would have to be ramp work at night in the rain."General aviation After graduating from school, Jennifer started to send out resumes. About a month later, she got a call from a repair station that does completions and refurbishment on corporate aircraft. "I was surprised that they even gave me a call, because they usually look for people who have experience." She went in for an interview and decided to go for it. She took the job and started in the refurbishment department. She was there for five months, and realized that the job wasn't a good fit for her. "I was doing sheet metal work and realized that's not what I really wanted to do." So she looked around and found a job in a small FBO nearby doing general aviation maintenance. "Right now, I'm doing a new project and having a blast - putting new fabric on some wings. I never learned how to do fabric in school. I was doing the inspection on the aircraft, and noticed that the fabric needed to be replaced. So I talked to my boss and told him I wanted to give it a shot. It's fun." When I asked her if she had any regrets deciding to become a mechanic, she said no. "I've always been comfortable working on recip engines. That's where my passion was all along. I knew this is what I wanted to do. Now that I am doing it, I love it. I wouldn't change it for the world." I asked her what the hardest thing was in transitioning from school to the real world working environment, she said it was just getting the knowledge together that you learned in school and applying it to what you are doing. "I am real fortunate here where I work. My boss has been real easy going as far as if you don't know something, ask. And I am really good at that. I have gotten a lot of learning and experience. I am always doing different things - it's something different each day, and that's what I like the most." When asked where she saw herself in the future, she says she didn't know. She will probably keep working out at the FBO for a long time getting experience under her belt. But she has not given up on her dream - opening her own business. "Looking down the road, that is something I would like to do. Maybe open up my own FBO or maintenance shop."
Rotor head
If there was an award for the most difficult job searching experience out of the group, Tim would win hands down. It wasn't until this past May that he landed a job. But part of the reason for that delay in finding a job was his desire to work on helicopters. "The job search was definitely hard, especially to get into helicopters. Looking at general aviation jobs, there seemed to be plenty of those kinds of jobs available. But for the helicopter industry it seems like everyone wants three to five years' experience." But Tim was a persistent job hunter, always looking at ways to network with others in the helicopter industry to try to land a job. Early this year, he heard about a summer helicopter maintenance opportunity in Alaska. After some phone interviews and talking about it with his family, he decided to take the job, and started in May. "I knew that the seasonal jobs were going to run out, and it was one of those things where I wanted to make sure I had a job for the summer, and I told them I wanted the job," he says. With the long job search before finding a job, I asked him if he regretted holding out for a helicopter job. "No," he says. "It ended up working out very well. I enjoy what I am doing. Although the initial job search was difficult, I really enjoy working on helicopters." Tim is working on Eurocopter AS350's and Bell 206's. The operation he is working at does long line (cargo hooks), forestry work, and tours. His job entails performing daily inspections on the helicopters and performing maintenance on them. "About one-third of the day is daily inspections," he says. "The other two-thirds is in the shop working on discrepancies. It is a variety of work all the time, so that is really nice because I get to learn a lot." When asked if working as an A&P is everything he expected, he says yes. "I can't say there were any surprises. I really like the work. I wasn't sure if I would or not. My co-workers are really great. I enjoy working in a small shop. It's pretty much everything I thought it would be and perhaps more because I really enjoy working on helicopters." His favorite part of the job is the shop work. "The shop work is more interesting than the daily inspections. The daily inspections are routine and not so hand's-on." As far as any difficulties making the transition from student to mechanic, he said the school left him well-prepared. "If anything," he says, "I would say my age makes the transition harder. I am 44 and had to basically start all over again. It's like being 18 and starting a new job. And most of us don't want to go back and assume that role again where we just don't know as much as we should. It is a learning curve. You have to prove to your peers that you are capable and deserve their respect that you can perform the duties assigned. It is a learning curve. You can work a lifetime and not learn everything. You learn a little every day." Looking at his decision to make a career transition in midlife from being a farmer to being an A&P, I asked him if he had any regrets. "No. I really enjoy the work. Four months before I took this job, I told my wife that I think this is the best thing to do. It was a difficult choice moving to Alaska for a summer job, especially since my family stayed behind in Wisconsin. Being away from the family is the tough part. But I am gaining some valuable knowledge and experience here."Still studying Two of the students, Dave and Lindsay, decided to further their education. They are both currently enrolled in degree programs. For Dave, the job search wasn't so successful. "I sent out resumes all over," he says. "I got replies back that they weren't hiring or that they were downsizing. I had a couple of opportunities, but I didn't feel like picking up and moving across the country for a job. After a while searching, I just decided to go back to school." Dave is working toward an electronic engineering degree. "It is a two-year program. After I graduate, I will take the FCC test." I asked him what made him decide to pursue an electronic engineering degree. "I figured I would be more marketable when I graduate with a degree, FCC license, and A&P certificate. In the end, I will have a four-year degree in management technology." Working toward management Like Dave, Lindsay had a difficult time landing a job. "I applied at numerous places in the area with no success. They would say 'We're not hiring right now, try again in six months.' Six months later, they still weren't hiring. So I decided to go back to school." Lindsay enrolled in an area college to get a bachelor's degree in industrialized management, and should be done in two years. She is taking compressed video and online courses at home through a college that offers distance learning programs and also attends classroom courses through another college. "With a degree in industrialized management, I hope to be able to start off as a mechanic and work my way up to a management or shift leader position." She says that not only will her degree make her more marketable to potential employers, but hopefully the market will be back on the up-swing in two years, making the job search easier.Different experiences Talking to these A&Ps, it was interesting to learn about their successes and struggles in this last year. Considering that this has been one of the most difficult times to be working in aviation, they seem to have fared quite well for themselves. Some have started their lifetime of learning in the hangar, while two of them are expanding their formal education in order to land a better job when they enter the job market. It is nice to hear the enthusiasm they all have for this career they have chosen. With can-do attitudes like that, there is no limit to where they can go. They are all definitely maximizing their career choices.