Written by: Joe Braddock
Recently, I had the opportunity to present at Career Day for a few local high schools. I had never done this before and knew it might be a challenge to make my pitch interesting. Not so much because the aviation industry is not interesting. Instead, I was a little nervous imagining a middle age guy like myself presenting to a bunch of tech savvy teenagers. Instead of trying to promote the company I work for, I decided to promote the aviation industry as a whole. Being in the aviation industry for almost 30 years, I knew there was so much more to the industry than most people know. I’ve spent years answering that question of “what do you do?” from people I meet at general social events, gatherings, or other non-aviation events. I’m sure I am not the only one who has struggled in social settings where you have to painfully yet quickly try to explain what you do in aviation to another person whose knowledge of aviation did not go past commercial airlines. Anyone else experienced this?
Presenting to hundreds of different types of teenagers, I knew I had to keep their attention somehow. Thinking back to my high school days, I knew that most of them didn’t even want to be there. Heck, it doesn’t matter if they’re teenagers, it’s difficult to keep anyone’s attention, right? No one likes being Powerpointed to death so I made my slides easy to read and image heavy. I threw in some silly images of unreal aircraft from video games like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto just to see if anyone caught them. Several of them called me out on it so at least I knew they were looking. As I mentioned, my presentation talked about the industry as a whole, the wide range of different aircraft it covers (i.e. not just airlines or fighter jets), and ALL of the different jobs it offers. I tried to make it the 10-minute presentation that I always wanted to give when a non-aviation person asked “what do you do?”. Although I am sure people know there’s a lot of behind the scenes people supporting a pilot flying an aircraft, I don’t think they understand all of the types of jobs available. Whether it be inspectors, technicians, engineers, writers, designers, drafters, mechanics or all of the other administrative/support jobs, most people just don’t know how many different types of jobs there are in aviation.
As I pitched all this about different jobs, I saw even the most uninterested students in the room perk up a little. At the end of my presentation, I was happy to see them ask questions. Most of the questions were insightful and meaningful. Well, one student did ask me about flying cars in space and how much that would cost. I didn’t have a real answer other than “a lot?” However, I would have taken any question just to know they were interested. And, my point is that THEY WERE INTERESTED!
You hear negative things about “Millennials” out there but I don’t think it’s all fair. I even read an article recently about how millennials killed mayonnaise. Really? Anyone ever think that maybe people just want to eat healthier? But I digress…
Through my recent observations as a parent, there doesn’t seem to be a lot that impresses younger people these days. Why? It seems like every generation critiques the next one and so on. We can all take things from one generation and say that wouldn’t happen “back in my day”. How do you know? The truth is you don’t know and you probably would have done the same things if you had the same things available to you. Perhaps younger people these days aren’t as interested in the things that us middle-aged people were interested in. Maybe there is not as much wow factor to flying things and gadgets as there was back in the day. Just take a look at what technology infants are being brought up with now. People can see almost anything they want to anytime on their phones. On a phone!
Everyone in the aviation industry knows there is a real shortage of people getting into the industry. The veterans of the industry are getting their much deserved retirement while the aviation world continues to grow at the same time. Unfortunately, the amount of skilled people coming in is not keeping up with that. What can we do about it?
I don’t have an immediate answer but I do think there is hope based on what I saw at that Career Day. If I had to throw out some ideas, I would suggest that we try to get more young people into aircraft and see how one really operates by getting them into the cockpit. You know, more hands-on kind of stuff. Have them turn a wrench on some part of the aircraft to see what that actually does. Show them the inside of a stripped out cabin so they understand how many wires are really running through there. Ask them for their help operating a drone (legally) so they can understand how much more equipped they are to operate those than us old folks.
We can’t give up trying to bring new, fresh talent into the aviation industry. There’s no hidden, undiscovered reserve of experienced aviation people that we have yet to find. It may take a lot of mentoring and coercing to get some people to take a look at the aviation industry. It may take donating your time or money but we have no choice. I believe that people of any age working a job want to feel that there is meaning in their job and that it makes a difference. Just saying that airplanes being neat, complex, and difficult to fly is not enough anymore. We have to show them even more about this great industry. Where it came from, where it is going and everything in between. Most people just don’t know. We have to think outside the box to relate to where people’s minds are at right now in relation to technology and the future of air travel. It’s going to be amazing so let’s get that message out there!