how to mine for aviation talent - handful of coal

The subject of mining for aviation talent was a lively topic during a discussion I recently had with a group of business aviation maintenance leaders.

And just what does it mean to “mine for talent”?

Well, it’s about taking an inventory of each individual in your aviation organization—especially if you’re a leader responsible for retaining talent and perhaps one day planning for your successor.

It’s also about looking at what motivates each person, as well as identifying any of their hidden talents.

For instance, which of your team members are perfectly content coming to work, doing their job well and then going home? Who among them strives to move beyond their position and into a leadership role of some kind?

In the simplest of terms, who on your team views their role as a “job” or “skilled trade” and who views it as a “career” with a desire to be groomed for advancement?

Who’s on your team?

In addition to identifying the aspirations of your team members, it’s extremely important to determine what is most important to their quality of life.

Do you have a non-exempt employee trying to put a child through college, and would they appreciate the opportunity for overtime? Do they want to be home for dinner on occasion because their spouse is busy managing their four small children?

Are they an introvert best suited for taking on individual projects where they can work on their own?

Although you cannot necessarily cater to these wants and needs—and you have to work within the confines of budgets and schedules—you’d be amazed what loyalty and appreciation you receive for even the smallest of nods in this direction.

Acknowledgement of what’s important to a team member, and the effort to meet his or her need, will repay itself tenfold.

Finding “talent” a seat at the table

In doing this important work, you may find the need to reexamine your aviation department’s structure. This is true especially when you’re acknowledging the talent of someone within your group who aspires to a leadership role—and has the skills to support that desire.

Can you create a Crew Chief, Lead Pilot or Safety Manager position, for instance?

Or, if you haven’t room for upward mobility and/or you don’t have the budget to increase salaries or responsibilities, perhaps you can offer someone an opportunity to run an internship program, or participate on an advisory board of some kind.

Also, don’t forget about the multiple NBAA committee opportunities available to them, in addition to any internal committees you can steer them toward.

Just start the conversation

If you simply can’t provide any of the aforementioned suggestions, it’s also acceptable to acknowledge a team member’s desire to grow. Let him or her know you would support that growth elsewhere if they find an opportunity for themselves—but only if you genuinely feel that way.

Although this may seem counter-intuitive, that type of openness fosters trust and growth. It also ensures that you’re successfully developing a talent who is very likely going to give back to the industry and thank you all the while.

So remember, when you’re mining the talent on your team, it’s not a “one size fits all” approach. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

What we’re doing is taking inventory of each team member and keeping a finger on the pulse of their motivators, as we potentially re-structure our team or identify a successor.

In closing, consider this: I’ve conducted hundreds of candidate interviews since I joined API, and I often discover that financial reward is far from their sole motivation.

Instead, many aviation professionals would rather achieve a certain quality of life, earn a new title or be given the opportunity to take on more responsibilities.

Sometimes you have to have to dig deep to uncover these motivators, so commit—and don’t forget to bring your miner’s hat!


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