The problem of finding ways to attract young, talented workers to jobs within business aviation has beleaguered flight department managers and other industry stakeholders for years. As experienced workers from the Baby Boomer generation retire, taking with them decades of experience and institutional knowledge, corporate flight departments are increasingly turning to internships as an effective method for grooming new professionals in the industry.
David Small manages the flight department for Cox Enterprises and serves as chairman of the Georgia Business Aviation Association. At NBAA’s Leadership Conference in San Antonio, Texas, he told AIN that his operation faced two primary concerns ahead of establishing its first internship opportunity, which was filled by an aviation management program student from Auburn University.
First: “How could we make the experience productive for someone who isn’t type-rated on an aircraft?” Second: “Would there be enough work for someone for the entire summer?” He told AIN, “As it turned out, we were pleasantly surprised to find we could immerse our candidate in all aspects of the department; in fact, he had gobs of work to do.” This successful experience has Small working to add a dedicated schedulers and dispatchers’ internship track, in addition to the company’s existing flight department and maintenance programs.
Another important step involves developing a talent pipeline through partnerships with area high schools and universities. In addition to spearheading aircraft pilot and maintenance internships within his flight department, Daniel Wolfe, v-p and general manager for Nationwide Insurance, speaks frequently at learning institutions across the country to encourage support for similar programs.
“Many educational institutions out there really don’t have a good connection to the industry and what we need from their students,” he noted. “Working with college officials to develop internship opportunities at local academic institutions is a way to get a foot in the door to help them develop an effective curriculum.”
Larger flight departments might also draw from their parent company’s existing internship program, although difficulty finding personnel within the department to lead such programs can prove an obstacle to getting the program up and running. “We’ve been highly interested in internship programs for some time, but just recently we found someone within our organization to run with it,” said the flight department manager for a Fortune 500 company. “When you get someone who’s really passionate about the program, it helps it run so much more smoothly.”
To brief other flight departments, NBAA’s business aviation management committee is working to develop a toolkit that regional industry groups can use to introduce internship programs to their members. “If we can build a consistent message throughout these groups,” Wolfe added, “it will be a powerful tool that everyone can draw on.”
He noted that when candidates interview with the company after two years, he realizes, “I can’t believe you know how much you know!” And that is a testament to the value of the internship program. “They’ve seen everything first hand, and they’re well prepared for their next job opportunity in our industry.”