The aviation industry as a whole has focused its recruiting efforts on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields for decades, mining aviation universities, technical schools and STEM high schools for the latest talent. As airlines recruit more employees from business aviation and decrease their entry requirements – even removing a decades-long requirement for a four-year college degree – it’s time for business aviation to widen the recruiting net, too.
What if we add the letter a – for the arts – to STEM, making it STEAM? Supporters say transitioning to STEAM makes sense not just because of workforce shortages. Individuals in arts fields bring valuable skills to the table. In fact, Jason Lorenzon, a pilot, musician, aviation attorney and assistant professor of aeronautics at Kent State University, reminds students the U.S. Code defines “aeronautics” as “the science and art of flight.”
“It’s the imaginative people – the dreamers, the creators – that will help develop the industry.”
Jason Lorenzon Assistant Professor of Aeronautics, Kent State University
If you’re not convinced the arts play a role in aviation, Lorenzon suggests you consider Leonardo da Vinci’s aerial screw. Da Vinci, one of the most widely recognized artists and sculptors of all time, was also an engineer and scientist. In the late 1400s, he designed the aerial screw about 400 years before the Wright brothers took flight in their fixed-wing aircraft at Kitty Hawk.
Creative Problem Solving With the Arts
Lyndse Costabile, a pilot, entrepreneur and marketing expert, recently hired two individuals who have “art minds” – but who are also pilots. They work in website management, web design and photography. She says although we tend to think of individuals in art fields as being right-brained, they actually use both sides of their brains; the left being calculated, planning and logical and the right being creative, imaginative and emotional.
“As someone who runs a business and leads staff recruiting, I look for people with a background in the arts.”
Lyndse Costabile Pilot, entrepreneur and marketing expert
This means not only can they bring critical thinking and creativity to an organization, but they can typically transition brain function from right to left and back quickly.
“As someone who runs a business and leads staff recruiting, I look for people with a background in the arts. I look for those specifically who can juggle that brain transition and manage their role well,” says Costabile. “For our business, we are serving multiple projects and campaigns simultaneously, requiring the ability to shift role and service strategically, while still delivering results to each client.”
Other industry experts agree.
Engineers and others with highly technical backgrounds can be so objective they forget to be creative, Lorenzon explains. “It’s the imaginative people – the dreamers, the creators – that will help develop the industry.”
Tammie Jo Shults, a retired airline captain, author and former naval aviator, says she finds great critical thinking in individuals from STEM fields, but great problem-solving skills among people involved in the arts. She suggests adding artists to your team to rejuvenate talent you already have.
“Consider the arc of the story in history. Whenever there’s a forced mixing of different perspectives, we move forward as a society,” Shults says, pointing to World War I and the Great Flu of 1918, which then led to the incredible progress of the roaring ‘20s. “Modern civilization has led us to specialize more and more and we think we’re better off, but that’s not really what happens. We just end up surrounding ourselves with people who think like we do.”
Case Study: Art in Aviation
Ashley Granada, NBAA’s marketing manager, previously worked at FBO Reliance Aviation and wanted to combine her hobby of photography with her career. She taught herself 3D modeling and completed a 3D model of a new terminal building and hangar for the FBO, then used augmented reality to demonstrate the customer experience with the new buildings. The FBO then utilized the model Granada had developed to help plan the construction and design of their new facility which is expected to be complete in 2024.
“Bringing a concept into something you can see is so important,” Granada says. “Visual content matters, because if something is too conceptual or hard to picture, it just might not seem possible.”
“People with an arts background, or even just an interest in the arts, can bring fresh ideas.”
Ashley Granada Marketing Manager, NBAA
Granada suggests leaders look for individuals with arts degrees or even hobbies in the arts.
“People with an arts background, or even just an interest in the arts, can bring fresh ideas,” Granada says. “But also look within your team,” she adds, because artistic people are all around us and we don’t always know it.
“Sometimes the quietest person has great ideas, but might not voice them,” says Granada.
For those in the arts looking to get into business aviation, Granada says networking is critical. She also suggests finding a mentor, saying it’s a small community once you meet a few people and most business aviation professionals are excited to share their knowledge and experience with incoming professionals.
Many believe members of the business aviation community could do more to promote the industry and educate students of all ages about the diversity of available roles. They attend air shows, sponsor scholarships, provide workshops and give school lectures, but they typically focus attention on students already in STEM fields. STEAM supporters encourage the industry to break away from the STEM-only pattern by offering to speak to a creative writing class or a visual arts class at a local high school.
“Kids are sometimes told aviation is a pipe dream, so they go into a different field.” We need to make sure kids know aviation is an attainable career, says Lorenzon, pointing out that too many students only think of pilots and maintenance technicians when they think of aviation careers.
The industry isn’t just made up of pilots and maintenance technicians. It also requires accountants, legal professionals, business managers, web developers, graphic designers, photographers and writers – skills that aviation doesn’t tend to articulate.
“Aviation is one of the few industries that has retained its excitement and thrill. It’s not a hard sell but we need to put it before a broader group.”
Tammie Jo Shults Retired airline captain, author and former naval aviator
“Aviation is one of the few industries that has retained its excitement and thrill. It’s not a hard sell but we need to put it before a broader group,” says Shults. “At around fifth grade, students send those grappling hooks of dreams in every direction. They don’t worry if they can afford it or if they know anyone who does it.”
Shults says, as an industry, we tend to wait for people to choose us, but we can help remove stereotypes around what technicians and pilots look like and where they come from simply by reaching out to different demographics. She suggests focusing on rural areas and Native American reservation groups that are virtually untouched by aviation education and recruiting efforts.
As aviation continues to seek creative solutions to meet its current and future workforce needs, it may be time for more employers to think outside the STEM box and add a little STEAM to its recruiting.
“We have to take a step back and realize we have put these rails up that we don’t need anymore. They aren’t serving us,” says Shults. “In fact, we need to broaden the net.”