AIN Blog: Reaching Out to Aviation's Future Employees

 - November 20, 2014, 2:44 PM
Barrington Irving
Barrington Irving was a star attraction at the Compton Middle Schools STEM day on October 12. (Photo: Matt Thurber)

I was wrong.

In a conversation with Sheryl Barden, president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, I dismissed her idea of reaching out to middle and high school counselors to promote careers in business aviation. We were discussing this subject before the NBAA Convention in October, where she was part of a panel session on business aviation careers. Knowing how busy the counselors are at my kids’ high school, I felt that it would be difficult to get their attention and that other industries are trying to do the very same to attract kids to their career opportunities.

On October 12, I found out how wrong I was. I drove to Davis Middle School in Compton, Calif., to see the Compton school district’s first annual science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) day celebration and to see how the kids reacted to the arrival of Barrington Irving in a Robinson R-44 helicopter.

Irving and his crew flew to Australia and the Asia-Pacific region in a Hawker 400XP equipped as the Flying Classroom, promoting STEM education and introducing kids to the joys of aviation. Irving took off on September 23 and completed the trip in Miami in mid-October. The visit to Compton wasn’t originally planned and was added at the last minute, during the Flying Classroom’s stop in Van Nuys, Calif., where Irving and sponsor Clay Lacy Aviation hosted an event for kids from Gault Elementary School.

At the Compton event, more than 1,000 kids were bused in from other Compton schools. Davis Middle School, by the way, is named after Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, commander of the Tuskegee Airmen. All of us at the event were thrilled to see Tuskegee crew chief Levi Thornhill, who told the kids, “Pay attention to what your teachers are trying to teach you. Take advantage of what you learn and take care of your friends.”

The STEM day at Davis Middle School wasn’t just about Barrington Irving’s Experience Aviation program and the Flying Classroom, although the arrival of the R-44 and a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department AStar was plenty thrilling for the kids. STEM participants put up booths to show off their work–robots, architectural models, flying machines, etc. The kids were uniformly polite and welcoming and they lined up in droves to see the inside of the helicopters.

The R-44 carrying Irving was flown by a local hero, Robin Petgrave, chief pilot and president of Celebrity Helicopters and founder of Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum (both are based at Compton Airport). Petgrave and the museum put donations and grants to work to help local kids learn about aviation and learn to fly, and many of these kids have gone on to remunerative aviation careers.

While at the STEM day, I spoke to two counselors at Compton schools and asked them if they wanted industry help to highlight careers in aviation. Rather than complain how busy they are, both responded enthusiastically. Apparently no industries currently are pestering these counselors for attention, so the door is wide open for aviation. This is where I was wrong, so Sheryl, by all means encourage everyone you know to contact their local middle and high school counselors and get aviation’s foot in the door. Every company I speak to in aviation these days complains about how hard it is to find qualified personnel. If we don’t prime the pump for the future, then it’s our own fault.

These kids are enthusiastic, smart, ambitious and just plain fun. What is your plan to reach out to them?