Jim Sparks kicks off nbaa maintenance conference

The value of investing time, effort and dollars was brought home to us in a big way. That’s why I wanted to review our participation in the 2015 NBAA Maintenance Management Conference.

As we happily discovered here at API, half of the conference’s content was devoted to the non-technical aspects. We discussed topics related to business aviation, people and their leadership, communication issues and other related topics.

As everyone agreed, the conference was informative, educational—even enlightening. And the takeaways were significant.

With more than 800 attendees, the energy throughout the event was exciting and infectious. There were plenty of “aha!” moments. I saw the inspiration and insight take hold on people’s faces throughout.

“The Rule of 3”

As a prime example was during the talk “Monday Morning Leadership,” by best-selling author David Cottrell. He took us on an inspiring journey into the very nature of leadership. That is, what it takes to be a leader and what it means to any organization lucky enough to employ truly impassioned leaders.

As David told us, today’s real leaders are never power mongers. Instead, they must be partners with their people, leading them through dedicated mentorship and example.

For me, one of the most insightful moments came when Dave talked about a concept of his called the “Rule of 3.” This instructs you to interview at least three qualified candidates for each position. Then interview each candidate at least three times. And, finally, have at least three team members evaluate each candidate.

As simple a concept as it seems, it couldn’t have made more sense to me!

Attitude & Altitude

Another bright spot during the conference was Dr. Steve Hrop’s session. During which he described practical assessment tools and techniques for identifying candidates who are likely to become top performers.

As the VP of Caliper Corp., Steve presented: “Hire Attitude, Higher Altitude:  Finding Your Next Top Performer.”

He gave us techniques on how we go about hiring and where to find talent. One maintenance manager spoke up to offer an example of job advertising on the Internet. They ended up with scores of resumes. He said, 80-90% didn’t even meet the minimum qualifications for the position. This entailed a lot of time and effort to screen them out.

The takeaway from Steve’s talk was how, during our assessment of candidates, we should focus on a candidate’s “fit.” And fit is based on three perspectives: the job, the team and the organizational culture.

A very helpful strategy for any employment firm or company.

Focus on the Future

Another big winner was “NextTech for NextGen” by Jim Sparks, NBAA Maintenance Committee Chair, and Jon Haag, Committee Vice Chair.

The presenters discussed the future avionic/maintenance technician. They also shared how to prepare for a shift in knowledge from what is required today.

For years, Jim and Jon told us, our industry has embraced technology. But, nevertheless, education and/or training for technicians has been outpaced by technological advancements. Closing the knowledge gap is critical. It will help us achieve a properly educated/trained workforce with corresponding skills.

The talk was very popular, as Jim and Jon emphasized the importance of outreach. In particular, how to bring talented, highly qualified people into our industry.

They also discussed “Project Bootstrap.” It’s their attempt to reach out to high school guidance counselors to increase awareness of our industry.

Talking Job Interviews

Next up among the highlights was my talk, titled “The Job Interview: A Conversation for Success.”

In this session, I emphasized how to identify and focus on the best practices to prep for an interview. I discussed everything from vetting resumes to conducting phone or Web-based video interviews. All the way to hosting panel interviews and one-on-ones.

Thankfully, the attendees were incredibly engaged.

We received a lot of great, enthusiastic feedback from many of them. Several attendees shared that their aha! moments was about using an interview scorecard.

I also asked Chairman Jim Sparks to comment on our session, and he shared these thoughts:

“The API presentation was most insightful. Many of us in business aviation are in the throes of filling technician positions. We must weigh each candidates’ professional characteristics against technical prowess and decide the proper balance to best fit the requirements of the position. Challenges, including defining qualifications along with the candidate’s communication abilities, make identification of the perfect fit for specific organizations an analytical endeavor. Most of us need to periodically sharpen the tools we use to thoroughly evaluate employment candidates and API provides a great whetstone.”

Grassroots Efforts

In hindsight, the conference helped strengthen my belief in how valuable not only the NBAA Maintenance Management Conference is to the business aviation industry, but how important each functional groups’ conference can be (e.g., (Leadership, Schedulers & Dispatchers and Flight Attendants).

The aircraft maintenance profession has perhaps suffered from the misperception. That it might not be the most attractive career path in our industry. But, at conferences such as this one, we’re attempting to tell a different story.

We’re going out to schools and trying to illustrate to prospective hirees that this side of the industry can indeed be rewarding, even exciting.

Yes, young people are eager to hear that Taylor Swift has an airplane. And someone like them maintains it! It was around this idea that many conversations at the conference really shone.

Now it’s our job to get the story out. We need to learn how to plug into the major sources of potential employees. The very good news is that there’s a lot of grassroots advocacy to help recruit people to our industry. Now we just need to find and develop ways to help those “seedlings” sprout and grow.

To see how we’re trying to attract young people to aviation, check out this blog here.

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