The business aviation sector, including NBAA and its member companies, is increasingly looking for ways to inform students about the many valuable and varied career opportunities throughout the industry.
“We don’t want to be the best-kept secret anymore,” says Jo Damato, CAM, NBAA’s senior vice president for education, training & workforce development. The need to continue spreading this message drove the association’s decision to host a career fair Oct. 18-19 at the 2023 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Las Vegas, NV.
Special events for students have taken on increasing importance as the industry seeks to differentiate itself from the airlines and attract the talented young people it needs to maintain momentum through the 21st century.
“Business aviation finds itself behind fences, making it difficult for students to learn or inquire about job possibilities,” says Matthew Olafsen, vice president at CFBAA, the Orlando-based Central Florida Business Aviation Association.
The need to develop additional recruitment tools partially stems from a short supply of pilots as well as technicians. Avionics advances are expected to contribute to a growing number of single-pilot operations, easing the shortage. But the need for qualified people to keep software and hardware running safely will only increase.
Advocacy Is Rewarding
Jordan Scales, who directs aircraft management for Clay Lacy Aviation in Atlanta, says student advocacy has been the most rewarding aspect of his career to date.
Clay Lacy Aviation said in February that it has boosted its funding of scholarships for pilots and maintenance technicians by $281,000, bringing its total to more than $500,000 since 2015. “We are committed to helping talented individuals discover and thrive in this vital industry,” said Scott Cutshall, senior vice president, development and sustainability.
Students are often unaware of the career opportunities afforded by business aviation, Scales says, a key reason that he’s organized an annual event at his Auburn University alma mater in Alabama.
“We bring industry professionals to campus to connect with students in various ways through networking receptions and classroom speaking opportunities,” says Scales. “The week consists of presentations, workshops and panel discussions, all centered around educating students on careers in business aviation.”
“You need the right enthusiastic person who’s a good storyteller. You tell a great story in front of an airplane. You don’t want it to feel like a classroom.”
Jo Damato CAM, NBAA Senior Vice President for Education, Training & Workforce Development
Have Aircraft On-Site
Students also get to see, and get aboard, actual business aircraft, and hear from the people who operate them. “You need the right enthusiastic person who’s a good storyteller,” says Damato. “You tell a great story in front of an airplane. You don’t want it to feel like a classroom.”
The success of the annual Auburn event led CFBAA to tap Scales to help organize a business aviation recruiting day on the heels of an annual job fair at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona, FL.
The inaugural event in April 2022 was held at Sheltair’s FBO at Daytona Beach International (DAB). “What better place than Daytona Beach where you have over 6,000 aviation students right across the airport at ERAU,” says CFBAA’s Olafsen. The 2022 event drew business jet manufacturers Bombardier, Embraer and Textron. This year, those three were joined by Dassault Falcon and Gulfstream.
“It is one thing to tell a student about an airplane, but another to touch and be in one,” Olafsen says. “Having these companies attend with an aircraft has been a big plus.”
“We can show students all the opportunities available from business aviation: state-of-the-art aircraft, professional development, industry variety and being part of a community, instead of just a number on a seniority list.”
Matthew Olafsen Vice President, Central Florida Business Aviation Association
Organizers also agree that it’s important to offer variety to students – “PowerPoints on one job alone are not going to sell someone on a career in business aviation,” says Damato. In addition to describing pilot and technician jobs, include opportunities as schedulers and customer service reps, in sales, as engineers and in manufacturing, and even interior design.
“It’s best to combine all of these,” says Scales. “Most students don’t have enough insight into the companies to understand what role they’d like to have.”
“Variety is a great way to hold students’ attention,” says Olafsen.
“Any time we have the opportunity, it’s better to bring the students to the airplane,” says Damato. “You want something that can open young people up to networking and further conversation. Students can see that it is really possible to work in aviation.”
Once you’ve decided to stage an event, it’s best to start early. “The further out the better,” Scales says. “Seven to 10 months is ideal.
“The biggest challenge is getting industry participation,” he adds.
Keep Student Schedules in Mind
It’s also vital to work with students’ schedules, avoiding vacation and exam times. “Earlier in the semester is ideal,” Scales says. “The closer you get to finals, the more distracted the students are.
“I would avoid trying to host a summer event,” says Scales. CFBAA’s Olafsen says that summer might work in northern climes, but in Florida, April is best.
For events with schools, it’s “imperative to have a member or teacher at that school on your planning committee so that they can advise you of any holiday, testing or event conflicts,” Olafsen says.
“In this day and age, you have to use [local media, email, social media, job boards] to get students' attention.”
Jordan Scales Aircraft Manager, Clay Lacy Aviation
Get School Cooperation
Also critical is making sure that schools will allow students time to attend the recruiting event. CFBAA has secured ERAU’s cooperation to the extent that some teachers give extra credit for attending the Business Aviation Day and even cash – this year student attendees received $5 vouchers that could be used at ERAU.
Food is important too. Last year CFBAA offered barbecue, this year Chick-fil-A provided eats.
“Free food is a great way to increase your attendance,” Olafsen says. “Pizza, pizza, pizza,” says Damato.
CFBAA’s Daytona event includes a professional photographer who takes headshots of students in front of a business jet. Students can use the photos for their LinkedIn pages or resumes.
Schools are critical for spreading the word about upcoming events. Local media? Social media? “In this day and age, you have to use all of these outlets to get students’ attention,” Scales says.
Another plus for Daytona? “For those students not at ERAU, we offer ramp space if they would like to fly into our event,” Olafsen says. “Aviation students can work our event into their cross-country time” –logging flight hours.
Always looming large are the airlines, and business aviation’s challenge to differentiate itself. “The airlines have the resources to saturate every communication channel – email, social media, job boards,” says Scales.
“We never want to put down the airlines,” says Damato. “We emphasize the advantages of business aviation.”
Careers in business aviation are almost always with smaller companies, she notes. “You have a chance to be who you are as an individual.
“Very often you can manage your own career path,” Damato says. “There are a lot of opportunities to find the job you’re looking for in the place you’d like to live.”
“We can’t compete with what the airlines are offering,” says Olafsen. “What we can do is show these students all the opportunities available to them if they went into business aviation instead: state-of-the-art aircraft, professional development, industry variety and being part of a community, instead of just a number on a seniority list.
“Our event is a large event,” Olafsen says of Daytona. “We get away with it because of our location in central Florida and all the aviation schools we have.
“In the end, all we are trying to do is introduce students to business aviation. That can be done on any scale,” says Olafsen. “If you are a small group in the Midwest, then maybe ask one of your flight department members to open their hangar.
“Maybe host a barbeque and invite local schools to come and see a business jet,” Olafsen says. “Maybe a local company will give a tour of their facility. Any size event will have a big impact on these students. Our hopes are that they will stick with our industry when they start their career.”