Externships are a two-way street: they give students a real-world taste of business aviation while providing companies with an opportunity to evaluate potential future employees without any obligation. Also, they are a good way for business aviation to attract talent.
While the externship concept isn’t new, the way it is being applied is.
Externships are becoming more flexible. Some colleges offer credit for externships so students can take part almost anytime, not just during academic breaks or vacations. This enables companies to take on externs at times that work best for both the student and the sponsor.
Also, externships can now be shorter and can occur at the sponsor’s convenience, explained Vanessa Renshaw, who manages the externship program at Southern Illinois University (SIU).
“We encourage employers to do a week, but it could also be just a few days. We tell them to look at it as a week-long job interview.”
Vanessa Renshaw Externship Program Manager, Southern Illinois University
“We encourage employers to do a week, but it could also be just a few days,” she said. “We tell them to look at it as a week-long job interview.”
SIU offers externships in aviation management, technology and flight. To qualify, students must have a 2.75 GPA and demonstrate during an interview a respectful attitude, good communication and time management skills, along with a commitment to the program. Overall, “Are they able to carry themselves professionally?” said Renshaw.
More than 4,000 students have participated in the SIU externship program since it was launched in 1984. In 2020, 54 students visited 43 companies, a 59% increase from 2019. SIU’s extern program involves mostly small to mid-size companies.
Business aircraft operators such as Masco, a Michigan-based home building products manufacturer that employs 12 people in its aviation department, have found externships useful. The goal is to have up to five externs per year who are compensated via scholarships, explained the director of aviation. The students come from nearby colleges with aviation programs: Eastern Michigan University, Northwestern Michigan College and Western Michigan University, the aviation director’s alma mater.
“The whole point is to build relationships,” explained the director. However, students must meet certain requirements. High on the list of attributes is personality. “Is there a cultural fit?”
“We also look at grades, extracurricular activities, collegiate aviation fraternity membership,” he added. “Are they progressing through their program, or just being a constant student-pilot? Is there a passion for aviation and, more specifically, a desire to learn more about business aviation? We always ask them, ‘Who’s on your aviation Mount Rushmore?’”
The aviation director noted that Masco’s externship program serves another purpose: It showcases the industry and aviation careers to the upcoming generation, including those less represented, such as women and minorities. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Jo Damato, CAM, NBAA’s vice president of educational strategy and workforce development, noted that externships are important tools to introduce individuals in underrepresented communities to the career possibilities of business aviation.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are a priority for growing the aviation workforce,” she declared, “and NBAA is committed to this through a number of internal and external initiatives. Diversity attracts diversity.”