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Internships Are Pipelines to Careers

April 20, 2022

One of the biggest challenges for job seekers fresh out of college is that potential employers want real-world work experience, even for entry-level positions. But how can people just starting their careers obtain experience never having held a professional job before?

One answer lies in internship and work-co-op opportunities, the modern-day equivalent of the old-world apprenticeship, in which craftsmen gave young people opportunities to learn a trade while obtaining the services of a helper. For companies that offer internship programs, as well as the students who participate in them, they are true win-win propositions.

Like a Test Drive

Aviation has a rich tradition of inviting youth into the industry, and internship programs are one way to educate and attract new members to the aviation workforce, which faces serious shortages of pilots, maintenance technicians and managers.

“An internship is like giving the industry a test-drive,” said Greg Hamelink, chief of maintenance and ground operations for Stryker Corp. in Kalamazoo, MI. “The experiences you have as an intern reveal not just the structured part of the job, but also the not-so-structured part – real life.”

As a former intern himself, Hamelink, a 1996 graduate of Western Michigan University (WMU) promotes internships at his company.

“I had no idea what business aviation was. Then, the hands-on aspect of my internship showed me what it was all about. My internship was a difference-maker for me.”

Greg Hamelink Chief of Maintenance and Ground Operations, Stryker Corp

“I followed the pilot option at WMU, with a side focus on maintenance,” explained Hamelink. “I had no idea what business aviation was. Then, the hands-on aspect of my internship showed me what it was all about. My internship was a difference-maker for me.”

Internships also can provide opportunities to enhance the academic portion of a student’s experience. For example, Hamelink says to help them with their classwork, he gives maintenance students access to electronic manuals and records – the real nitty-gritty of a modern maintenance technician’s experience.

But sometimes the internship process reveals that business aviation is not the career for a particular person. Hamelink cited the case of one student on the pilot track who started out seeking a career in business aviation, but then learned that he preferred the predictable scheduling of an airline career.

Hamelink also said being an intern can provide a student an opportunity to move out of their comfort zone.
“It’s like starting a new semester and figuring out ‘scheduling life.’ Interns will mirror pilots, maintenance techs, schedulers, etc. as they go through their workday.”

Sometimes, said Hamelink, the internship process involves filling the need for “another body to help pull a cowl. It’s real on-the-job training.” And there is no typical workday in business aviation, he added. “They [interns] will be forced to communicate and learn how to get things done.”

Most of the interns who have spent time with Stryker go on to successful careers in business aviation. In fact, two are now flight department directors.

An OEM Perspective

According to Christian Flathman, Gulfstream Aerospace’s director of public and media relations, the aircraft manufacturer has, on average, welcomed around 120 interns per year and around 50 co-ops each semester.

“Our program runs by quarter and/or semester – spring, summer and fall – and can range in length from 12 to 16 weeks,” said Flathman. “The majority of our positions are full-time, but we do also offer part-time opportunities.”

In evaluating potential interns, Flathman said, “We look for a well-rounded student who is eager to get hands-on experience in their field. Our programs do have a GPA requirement, and our goal is to attract and recruit students who are academically strong and can also balance school commitments and other responsibilities.

“We look at past intern or work-related experience (including part-time and summer jobs), leadership and campus involvement, school projects and research experience,” continued Flathman. “Technical skills – such as experience with CATIA, Matlab and AutoCAD – are also preferred for many of our roles.”

These internships and co-ops often lead to careers with Gulfstream.

Flathman said, “We have had numerous interns who completed summer internships with us, then came back after graduation to a full-time position. It’s so great to see how prepared they are for their first full-time position. They are also great mentors for current interns since they have been in the same position.”

Flathman noted, “Our chief engineer of completions and director of ops engineering are both past co-ops and are now at the director level, managing large teams in two critical areas.”

NBAA Examples

In the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Texas Christian University in 2013, Molly Hitch worked as a summer intern at NBAA. Her networking there led to a job with Textron Aviation, where she first worked on trade shows and events, then business development, customer account management and, finally, as a regional sales representative. After four years with Textron, her career path led her back to NBAA, where she is now senior manager of professional development.

Clearly a proponent of the value of internships and co-ops as a “pipeline to employment,” Hitch suggests that the University Aviation Association is a valuable resource for students seeking undergraduate opportunities.

“Students need to seek out opportunities with entities like OEMs, [aircraft] brokers and flight departments to explore whether they do or do not want to be in business aviation,” said Hitch.

Regarding seeking an internship with a company you’re interested in, Hitch said, “You’ll never know [if an opportunity exists] if you don’t ask.”

While a flight science major at Saint Louis University, Parks College in 2018, Emily Tobler spent eight weeks as an intern at NBAA headquarters in Washington, D.C. She now is a professional development specialist with the association and is involved in various workforce development initiatives, such as the NBAA Collegiate Connect webinar series.

Tobler said internships “can be tough to find,” but she networked through Women in Aviation International and Alpha Eta Rho, a professional collegiate aviation fraternity for aviation students, to find opportunities.

Tobler says the traits business aviation companies are looking for in potential interns are “a can-do attitude and being comfortable with not being monitored.”

Her best advice for interns and co-op students: “Over-ask questions. Articulate your interests and passions. You don’t know what window will open for you.”

Review NBAA’s internship resources.

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