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Regional Groups Step Up Student Recruiting

Scholarships, aircraft displays, school visits, luncheons, career fairs, facility tours, invitation-only gatherings. These are just a few of the ways that regional business aviation organizations promote the benefits of business aviation careers to young people, whether they be aspiring pilots, technicians or schedulers/dispatchers.

A key challenge? Letting young people know that flying isn’t just about airlines. There’s a business aviation community operating some of the most advanced aircraft in the sky, performing more than 15,000 humanitarian missions each year, supporting upwards of a million jobs in the U.S. alone.

“It’s incumbent on us as professionals in the industry to spread the word,” declared Jenny Showalter, secretary of the Central Florida Business Aviation Association (CFBAA). “We have to get more young people involved in what we do.”

“It’s incumbent on us as professionals in the industry to spread the word. We have to get more young people involved in what we do.”

Jenny Showalter Chief Motivational Officer, Showalter Business Aviation Career Coaching

“Business aviation is the best-kept secret in the aviation industry,” said Jessica Belcher of Exclusive Aircraft Sales. “I say it all the time.” Unfortunately, she said, airlines often out-muscle business aviation at recruiting events.

Belcher is president of the Minneapolis chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI) Stars of the North and is helping spearhead recruitment efforts on the part of a couple of business aviation organizations, including NBAA and the Minnesota Business Aviation Association.

Especially close to her heart is WAI’s annual Girls in Aviation Day (GIAD), held each September, with dates determined by local chapters. WAI “plays well in the sandbox with everyone,” Belcher said, so GIAD events often include military aviation participants, airlines and drone developers, as well as business aviation.

Belcher sees this cooperation as a plus: “It speaks to the great diversity in our industry,” while the broader scope provides business aviation recruiters “a great way to reach potential people for the workforce.”

Recruiting in the Midwest

In Nebraska, business aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul specialist Duncan Aviation hosted a Lincoln Career Fair this past August, open to anyone in the community who wanted to learn more about jobs at the company, in both shops and offices. The family-owned firm plans to host more such events, possibly at its other locations. The company works with area high schools and colleges, regional aviation maintenance schools, and offers an apprenticeship program at its three main locations.

Duncan Aviation this year hosted a Nebraska Business Aviation Association (NeBAA) luncheon at its Lincoln, NE, headquarters for students from area schools. NeBAA offers both technical and pilot scholarships, the latter in league with FlightSafety International.

“We’ve always tapped into the local regional associations,” said Jennifer Monroe, Duncan Aviation’s human resources supervisor. Susie Corn, Duncan Aviation’s south central regional manager, for example, is co-chair of the North Texas Business Aviation Association in Dallas.

“We’ve always tapped into the local regional associations.”

Jennifer Monroe Human Resources Supervisor, Duncan Aviation

Recruitment efforts are ramping up because the company is experiencing a serious shortage of qualified technicians, said Monroe. “Duncan Aviation is uncovering rocks that we haven’t in the past. The shortage is definitely bigger than ever.

“We have a number of A&P schools we partner with to source and secure new talent,” explained Monroe. “We offer robust and paid summer internships in the bulk of our production departments.” These include airframe, engine, avionics, non-destructive testing, cabin interior and paint shops. Duncan Aviation recruits for administrative, marketing and legal positions, too.

“Going deeper, we have struck up relationships with a number of high schools in areas where Duncan Aviation has a facility. At a minimum,” Monroe said, “we participate in their career fairs, make classroom presentations on career opportunities in business aviation, and host tours and on-site lunches.

“Also in Nebraska,” Monroe said, “we have connected with a high school that’s started an aviation pathway. We developed a work-study opportunity for 10-12 students to learn at Duncan Aviation and perform hands-on work as they rotate through our departments during a January-May semester.”

The students spend close to two hours each day in their assigned Duncan Aviation department before they rotate after two weeks. Monroe said the company has started conversations with other high schools that have aviation programs to determine if opportunities exist to deploy this model at other schools.

Efforts in Texas and Florida

In Texas, the Greater Waco Aerospace Alliance (GWAA) provides scholarships to area students who are pursuing careers in aviation at local institutions. “The goal is to retain talent for our local aerospace companies and to build a pipeline,” said Lexy Reil, director of economic development for the Greater Waco Chamber, the organization that hosts the alliance.

This past summer GWAA awarded a total of $29,500 in scholarships to 15 students pursuing aviation/aerospace or engineering-related degrees at Texas State Technical College, Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas Tech – Waco and Tarleton State University at Waco.

According to Reil, “These scholarships are cultivating the next generation of technicians and business aviation professionals, opening the talent pipeline to all the possibilities there are in aerospace in Waco.

“Many owners of local aviation businesses sit on our advisory committee and are able to provide wisdom and insight to the students on their career aspirations,” Reil noted. “Students go on to work for these local business aviation companies, including Blackhawk Aero and JAG Aviation.”

Meanwhile, in Florida, Orlando-based Central Florida Business Aviation Association (CFBAA), which was founded just prior to the pandemic, is busy shifting to in-person student recruiting. CFBAA is working with NBAA on student outreach at this year’s NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition, where a mobile jobs lab at Orlando Executive Airport will complement events at the Orange County Convention Center.

“The goal [of our scholarships] is to retain talent for our local aerospace companies and to build a pipeline.”

Lexy Reil Director of Economic Development, Greater Waco Chamber

Separately, the Orlando-based group is gearing up for Business Aviation Day 2023 next April, an event that will be hosted by Sheltair Aviation at Daytona Beach International Airport.

The event provides students the opportunity to connect with companies and network with industry professionals to learn more about the industry and future career opportunities. It’s an event dedicated to showing aviation-interested students everything the business aviation industry has to offer.

Said Showalter, “Think of it as a mini-NBAA regional forum, but for students – everything designed to introduce them to business aviation.”

Business Aviation Day 2022 marked the first time there was a business aviation event associated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Aviation Week at Daytona, noted Showalter. The 2022 gathering, also hosted by Sheltair, drew some 150 students and featured presentations by NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen and Michael Amalfitano, NBAA board member and president and CEO of Embraer Executive Jets.

Showalter expects the Business Aviation series to be a principal source of financing for CFBAA’s nascent scholarships program. “We don’t have a single golfer on the board,” she said, referring to golf tournaments, which are a favorite fundraising tool of other regional groups.

Showalter herself is directly involved in interacting with students. After working for her family’s Showalter Flying Service in Orlando and for Aviation Personnel International, she recently founded Showalter Business Aviation Career Coaching to help students make their way in the industry. She helps students with resume-writing, interview skills and even their LinkedIn presentations.

Business aviation’s draw? “It’s a lifestyle, an amazing lifestyle,” said Showalter. Nine-to-five? No way. “It requires extra, but it gives back so much. We work in the greatest industry on the planet.”

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