Grassroots Education: Answering the Call
A key message I just heard at the NBAA Leadership Conference was about the value of reaching out to talented young people. The goal being to educate them and pique their interest in the field of business aviation.
During his keynote address, NBAA’s Chief, Ed Bolen, encouraged us to “talk the way young people talk,” and to approach them about getting involved in the field of business aviation. He challenged each of us to take personal responsibility for the growth of our industry.
Coincidentally, I have that exact same personal and professional goal. That is, to help spread the word about the opportunities in corporate aviation.
Just a few months ago, I took advantage of an opportunity to give back to my local aviation community. In sharing my story with you, I hope you and/or your team become inspired to take your own steps to “pay it forward” and help to grow the aviation industry in your own way.
Paying it Forward
Last summer, my family and I relocated from Seattle to my home state of Minnesota. As soon as I started to plant roots, I reached out to one of my aviation contacts, Daniel Galvin. Dan’s an alum of Minnesota State University, Mankato (MSMU), which is now in my backyard. I asked him if he could put me in touch with someone affiliated with the aviation program at the college.
My mission? To start giving back to the local aviation community in ways that might help mitigate the alarming shortages of pilots and mechanical professionals.
Business Aviation Career Day
Daniel came through.
He introduced me to one of MSMU’s aviation instructors, Cheri Rouhfling. Soon after my introductory phone call with her, Cheri and I met for coffee. She told me more about MSMU’s aviation curriculum, and her dual role as both a private pilot instructor and a pilot for Delta Airlines.
I shared with her that I’ve been in business aviation for almost 15 years, and that I’d like to support her students in any way possible. In particular, I asked her how I could help MSMU’s aviation students learn more about the business aviation industry.
That’s when we brainstormed the idea of hosting a Business Aviation Career Day as a way to explain and promote the benefits of business aviation.
The idea quickly took off.
Cheri reached out to fellow MSMU alum, Jason Ceminsky, who owns PRO TRAIN Aviation and works in the industry. He generously agreed to participate, and even offered to host our “grassroots” event in his company’s hangar.
Cheri, Jason and I worked together to make it happen.
Working a ‘Soft Sell’
On December 6th of this past year, 35 MSMU students came to help us kick off our first Business Aviation Career Day. Held at Mankato Regional Airport, we created an informational panel that included Bill Marlow, who’s a captain at Target, Jason and me.
Bill Marlow’s been at Target for more than 20 years, and he has a son enrolled in the MSMU aviation program. Speaking from a pilot’s perspective, he and Jason talked about the pluses and minuses of business aviation.
Our goal for the panel wasn’t so much to “sell” our industry, but, rather, to encourage the students to be open-minded about the industry’s possibilities for them. We hoped to help them see that working for a regional or mainline carrier isn’t their only career option.
I spoke about the different paths within general aviation, including managerial opportunities. These students learned that they can contribute well beyond the cockpit, in roles such as Standards Captain, Training Captain, Chief Pilot, etc. I explained that, in business aviation, you can move laterally without compromising your experience or your seniority.
As a recruiter, I also shared that many of our corporate pilot candidates have a history rooted in the airlines, but that due to an unexpected furlough, they turned to business aviation. And, interestingly, the majority of them never looked back.
Prior to our event, we had asked the students submit questions to their peer facilitator. Then we answered them in the panel discussion, as well as addressing additional questions that came up organically. Following are a few of the students’ questions, which I find interesting:
- What’s one of the coolest destinations you’ve ever been to? (Both pilots said the flight home is always the best!).
- How long did it take you to move from First Officer to Captain?
- What’s your schedule like?
- What are the different aircraft that you’ve flown?
- Who are some of the people you’ve flown?
The overwhelming lesson WE learned during our event was that what we suspected was true: the vast majority of aviation students don’t really know that business aviation exists as a career option. Realizing this only strengthened our resolve about our mission going forward: to spread awareness about business aviation however we can.
That’s why we’re asking you, our API friends and family, to do the same—to, in some way big or small, preach the gospel about the many positives of a career in corporate aviation. If my own experience has taught me anything, I can assure you that your audience will be only too glad to listen, and your efforts will be rewarded. After all, as the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanhn says, “Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.”
One “transformational” thing I’m very happy to report is that one of the students who participated in our panel has already followed up with API and asked for our guidance as she pursues a career in corporate aviation. And, as luck would have it, we’ve got some contacts!
If you liked my story, I’d love to hear yours. Please take a few minutes to share with us how you or your aviation organization is helping to educate local students in your community. We’d love to learn from your successes, and even your failures.