June 10, 2013

As the median age of business aviation workers continues to advance, many within the industry have grappled with the question of how to attract new talent. Increasingly, flight departments and service providers are turning to internships as a way to introduce college students to the industry and consider the students themselves as potential employees.

“The idea of an internship program for NBAA Member Companies is to introduce students to business aviation, allowing them to learn how a flight department is managed, as well as the difference between a business aviation department and an airline, and why we think business aviation offers an attractive career path,” said NBAA Program Manager for Professional Development Sarah Wolf. “We like to expose aviation students to a variety of opportunities.”

Molly Hitch is a rising junior at Texas Christian University, endeavoring to complete a double major in marketing and entrepreneurial studies. She is also one of two college students interning at NBAA headquarters in Washington, DC this summer.

“I’m excited to learn about the industry and what the NBAA organizational perspective is,” she said. “I’m excited to see it from the inside and to see how hard they really work for business aviation.”

What is the best way to start an internship program that benefits the organization, the industry and the student? Wolf offered a three-point checklist for getting it off the ground.

Gather Resources

“The first thing I would do is reference NBAA materials on internships,” Wolf said. “And the best of those is the NBAA Management Guide.”

Wolf said the Management Guide has valuable information like a sample timeline for an internship program, job descriptions and even FAQs on how to get started.

In addition, the NBAA Business and Collegiate Aviation Pipeline Program Guide provides basic guidance on how NBAA Member Companies, regional business aviation associations, collegiate aviation degree programs and governance bodies can work together to provide mentoring and hands-on learning opportunities for aviation students, creating a pipeline of career opportunity that benefits the entire business aviation industry.

Beyond NBAA resources, Wolf recommended reaching out to university aviation programs as well as the University Aviation Association (UAA). “That way, you can start to form a pipeline that flows information both ways,” Wolf explained. Visit the UAA website.

Keep it Real

It is important that an internship reflects real-world experience for the student, Wolf said.

“For our NBAA interns, we give them a variety of jobs. Some might be clerical or administrative, but also, they’re getting experience dealing with real issues that are vital to our Members as well as with Members themselves,” she explained.

The takeaway here, Wolf said, is to expose the student to a wide variety of experiences. While you don’t want to dazzle them by making the job seem overly glamorous, you also don’t want to stick interns in dull jobs that no one else in the department wants to do, she cautioned.

Review NBAA’s Sample Intern Project Assignment List.

Consider Aftercare

Once the internship is concluded and you have evaluated the student based on criteria set before the experience began, what kind of follow-up relationship is in order?

“Some companies consider an internship sort of an extended job interview,” Wolf said. “After one or two months, you have a pretty good idea of how the student might fit into your organization after graduation.”

Like Hitch, however, some interns will not be quite ready for that.

“I hope to network through NBAA,” she said. “I’d love to have a career in the business aviation industry. I hope to meet people. NBAA is very well-connected, so I hope there will be a lot of opportunities.”

“They’ve worked for you,” Wolf said of interns. “You know them. They’re looking for your help in entering the industry. If they did a good job, I would feel good about working with them after their schooling to help them get a job in this industry. A lot of us at NBAA are just dying to work with new people coming out of school, trying to find ways to introduce them to business aviation or to aviation in general.”