Finding ways to attract young, talented workers to business aviation has bedeviled industry stakeholders for years. As hundreds of experienced baby boomers with institutional knowledge retire – and with most collegiate aviation programs focused on airline job opportunities – business aviation must consider new methods to effectively draw suitable candidates to the industry.
Among all the possibilities, internships have shown to be one of the most effective methods of grooming new business aviation professionals
“Internships might be one of the fastest fixes available right now for attracting new talent,” said Dr. Tara Harl, executive advisor for aviation workforce at GBJets, Inc.
In 2008, as a member of the Minnesota Business Aviation Association, Harl developed the first business/ collegiate aviation industry on-site lab in the nation. Since then, NBAA member companies, regional business aviation associations, and collegiate aviation degree programs and governing bodies have endeavored to work together to provide mentoring and hands-on learning opportunities for aviation students in order to create a career pipeline between collegiate aviation and business aviation.
But widespread success has been elusive, and Harl admitted the effort hasn’t taken off as intended, in large part due to a lack of institutional awareness of business aviation at the collegiate level.
“There are about five full-time professors nationwide who have taught [at colleges] and also worked in business aviation,” said Harl. “The collegiate path is extremely focused on commercial airlines, and that isn’t by accident, as airlines have heavily invested the time and resources necessary to establish a pipeline for talent.”
Daniel Wolfe, associate vice president and general manager of aviation at Nationwide Insurance and a member of NBAA’s Corporate Aviation Management Committee, has been a staunch proponent of business aviation internship opportunities for nearly two decades. In addition to spearheading aircraft pilot and maintenance internships with Nationwide’s flight department, he speaks frequently at colleges across the country to encourage support for similar programs.
“Many educational institutions out there really don’t have a good connection to the industry and what we need from their students,” Wolfe said. “Working with college officials to develop internship opportunities at local academic institutions is a way to get ‘a foot in the door’ to help them develop an effective curriculum.”
Wolfe acknowledged that perceived costs, a shortage of possible staffing, and a shortage of readily available partner institutions or universities are all possible deterrents for companies seeking to develop such programs – or those looking for reasons not to try.
“Those are all valid arguments, but that said, people also have several misperceptions about internships,” Wolfe explained. “They view them as babysitting activities, and that’s because they don’t know what they don’t know. A well-guided and well-managed internship brings tremendous value to a company and the industry.”
CHANGING FOCUS, EVOLVING METHODS
Sheryl Barden, president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, has worked throughout her career to find suitable job candidates for flight departments.
Barden said that candidates who come from outside the industry typically have served in the military or worked at a regional airline “where they’ve received their training and built hours, but [now] wish to work in a more corporate setting.”
Some other prospects, especially younger people, have worked in other areas of the aviation industry and are looking for an opportunity to transition to business aviation.
Attracting people with an existing aviation background to business aviation is one thing. But what about graduating high school and college students seeking a career path?
“As an industry, we definitely have some work to do,” Barden acknowledged. “We don’t have a great channel to tell the story of business aviation, and I don’t think we’re always telling it to the right people.”
“We’re a passion industry,” Harl noted. “We’ve relied on the passion and love for airports and airplanes to bring new personnel into the fold, but we haven’t tracked data to determine the effectiveness of aviation camps or K-12 outreach programs.”
Internships might be one of the fastest fixes available right now for attracting new talent.
Collegiate aviation programs often expect faculty members to teach all aspects of aviation, added Harl. “Many postings for collegiate professor positions state that the candidate will teach… ATC, airport, airline and GA management courses, along with the hard sciences of meteorology and aerodynamics. No one person has that broad an expertise.”
Industry stakeholders must also reexamine their own standards and practices. Barden recalled an experience while visiting Scott Air Force Base outside St. Louis, MO last year.
“I chatted with two young airmen crewing on a C-21 [the U.S. Air Force variant of the Learjet 35.] We spoke about where they were from, how many hours each had, and so on. These airmen had less than 1,000 hours apiece, and yet they were flying generals… Why can the military do that, and not us?
“The military offers fantastic training opportunities, but it also utilizes a rigid pass/fail approach,” Barden continued. “You either pass or you’re out. We don’t have that in civil aviation training.”
AN OPPORTUNITY LOOKING FOR A LEADER
Barden, Harl and Wolfe each acknowledged that while significant work has been done to encourage the development of the next generation of industry recruitment programs, to date the industry hasn’t landed upon a single, unified methodology.
“There are some wonderful programs NBAA is doing to try to help organizations set up internships,” noted Barden. “There also are some very creative flight department directors out there who are doing things to bring people in and indoctrinating them at an early age from almost an ab initio level.”
Barden noted that one large West Coast operator has done a good job placing people in developmental positions, starting in scheduling and working through the flight department. Another flight department brings in qualified intern pilots, who serve as third crewmembers on international flights. “Those kinds of approaches are what it takes to bring these young people into our industry.”
A long-term possibility is the creation of a national training academy for GA operations, “applying the same rigors as military training and offering training from zero-time through first officer,” said Barden.
“We also need a very targeted educational campaign with high school guidance counselors,” added Barden. “I believe they don’t know enough about our industry to help guide outstanding STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] students toward equally outstanding careers in business aviation.”
Harl also stressed the importance of developing a collegiate aviation track geared toward the non-airline aspects of aviation. “Bring in Part 91 and 135 [operators], along with flight schools and maintenance [organizations]. Work with academia to develop a degree path in general aviation.
“We have a significant leadership gap, but that’s also a huge opportunity for someone to step in,” Harl added. “If we could get two dozen companies committed to launching internships over the next two years, that would be a worthwhile start; it’s a question of time and of available resources.”
“Internships are a part of what it takes to be a leader in this industry,” Wolfe declared. “Having a department staff member, like a pilot and or mechanic, take on the leadership development piece of an internship program will allow the department to make an educated decision moving forward.” Many of the foundational guidelines are well laid out in NBAA’s Internship and Career Guide available on the association’s website, he noted.
“At the end of the day, we’re not only building a better industry, but also giving insight and opportunities into something most aviators have never seen: the inner workings of a Fortune 500 flight department,” Wolfe concluded. “Interns experience those abilities, insights and skill sets firsthand, and that helps make our industry better.”
Learn more at www.nbaa.org/internships.
Internships not only can create a talent pipeline for flight departments, they have monetary benefits as well.
- $2,411 – Savings in recruitment and hiring costs
- $13,513 – Savings in salary and benefits costs for special project work conducted by interns
- $1,659 – Savings in new hire training and onboarding costs
- 15 Hours – Average time savings per week an intern saves other employees by performing tasks those employees would typically conduct
Source: “Educating, Implementing and Maintaining Aviation Internship Programs,” NBAA2014 Presentation, Daniel Wolfe