There is a justifiable argument to be made that waiting until students are in college to expose them to a career option is too late. Jeff Lee, director of flight operations for IBM in White Plains, N.Y., agrees.
“We see definite shortages of personnel in the industry, and it’s going to get worse. We need to attract people into the industry and the earlier the better. Even high school might be a little late, because many are already committed to a career. We decided middle school was appropriate,” he told AIN. So Lee and 190 other volunteers and exhibitors put together the two-day Westchester Aviation Career Fair last September. It was held at Westchester County Airport (HPN).
“We collected about $25,000 from various manufacturers, local corporations and others,” Lee said. “Kraft Foods supplied all the food on Friday, Pepsi gave us drinks, Vivendi Universal donated its hangar and ramp for the entire three days, but the fair was still larger, so U.S. Tobacco volunteered its ramp and suspended flight operations for the length of the fair. This was a major collaboration by a lot of people.”
Lee said the fair focused not only on flying, but also on more than 60 aviation careers, including air traffic control, meteorology, non-destructive testing, operations, FBO management, airlines and more.
“We had all sorts of people available to answer questions about the different career fields. Twenty-six schools participated, bringing more than 800 kids. The energy level was just electric,” he said. “We had a drawing for thirty $50 introductory flight lessons for kids who filled out our evaluation form. There were also prizes such as a FlightSafety simulator session, airplane models, a desktop weather station and two roundtrip tickets to London for a teacher.” While the first day was geared toward middle- and high-school students, the second day was open to the public. In all, the fair drew more than 1,400 people.
“When we started this we had several different purposes. Our primary goal was to have a vehicle to improve relations with the surrounding community. We wanted the opportunity to find common ground among groups that have conflicts. What we realized was that everybody loves kids, kids love airplanes and parents love opportunities for kids,” Lee said. “This could be another vehicle that airports could use to reconnect to the local community. At the same time it is an outstanding way to acquaint kids with a lot of different aviation-related career options.” The second annual Westchester Aviation Career Fair has been scheduled for October 24 and 25 next year.