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Tips & Tools

Career Pipelines Deliver the Next Generation of Business Aviation Professionals

With the first baby boomers now reaching retirement age, succession planning has become a hot topic at many companies. A recent issue of Business Aviation Insider addressed the question of how flight departments can plan in advance to avoid a crisis and ensure stability when a long-time, experienced manager retires. (See “For More Information” at the end of this article.) But what are some other options for companies looking to cultivate talent for the long term?

Student internships and other mentoring programs might be the answer. Clearly, there are many benefits to this arrangement for the intern, from building a résumé and gaining on-the-job experience, to cultivating a relationship with a mentor that may last a lifetime, but those benefits aren’t one-sided. For small and medium-sized companies in business aviation, an internship program may become a year-round recruiting tool for the flight department – an aviation career pipeline that brings qualified talent from collegiate aviation programs directly to the organization.

Many flight departments have found value in working with local universities to create formal pipeline programs. These mutually beneficial arrangements serve to introduce students to the “real world” of business aviation operations, while also giving companies an opportunity to give back and share knowledge with future industry leaders. Universities benefit, too, when aviation students are given access to company facilities, equipment and practical experiences that the schools could not otherwise provide.

Putting Concepts Into Practice

Many NBAA Members have been in the forefront of this effort to formalize partnerships between business aviation and collegiate aviation, often with support from an umbrella group such as a regional business aviation association. For instance, in 2002, driven by the grassroots efforts of a few determined individuals in the collegiate aviation community, a first-of-its-kind pipeline program linked the Minnesota Business Aviation Association (MBAA) with St. Cloud State University’s business aviation program, providing aviation students with “on-site lab time” that the university could not afford to simulate.

At about the same time the MBAA pipeline program was first being set up, similar grassroots efforts in Ohio prompted several local flight departments to link with collegiate aviation programs at Ohio State and Kent State, with the support of the Ohio Regional Business Aviation Association. Since then, Minnesota and Ohio leaders have been approached by many other communities for guidance on implementing programs in other areas of the United States, and NBAA’s Corporate Aviation Management Committee took inspiration from the groups in developing a Business and Collegiate Aviation Pipeline Program Guide for Association Members.

These mutually beneficial arrangements serve to introduce students to the ‘real world’ of business aviation operations, while also giving companies an opportunity to give back and share knowledge with future industry leaders.

Richard Sedgwick, director of flight operations and chief pilot at Minnesota-based Target Corporation, has worked closely with MBAA to support mentorship programs for local college students. According to Sedgwick, companies collaborate with university business aviation programs to design hands-on work projects for students every year. For example, a recent MBAA project had students redesign the association’s web site. Sedgwick notes that having a variety of skills benefits graduates entering the economy.

“In the corporate world, we need people who can fly an airplane, but we also need those basic computer skills that are fundamental to everything we do,” he explained. “It’s easy to say, ‘I want to be a pilot’ because that’s your passion. But day to day, it’s those other skills that are super important in a leadership role in business.”

Neil Brackin of MBAA said the regional association supports a minimum of four students per year in summer internships in the area. The students are given the opportunity to shadow local maintenance specialists and pilots, for example. Others are able to spend a day observing airport operations or touring a hangar of a local company.

“Students really get a broad, hands-on exposure of all facets of business, flight operations and maintenance of aircraft,” said Brackin.

“It needs to start as exposure,” said Eric Black of The Limited’s flight department, an NBAA Member in Ohio. “There are few good textbooks in this area, so industry can make a significant impact just by introducing students to a field they may not otherwise learn about.”

Internships give aviation students the opportunity to put classroom theory into practice and develop their “people skills” to boot. Flight departments later reap the rewards of such arrangements when they have first crack at hiring well-rounded aviation graduates with good customer service skills.

Other Considerations for Companies

Aside from offering internships, there are other ways for companies to work with academia to develop a pipeline program, such as by having employees serve as guest speakers in local college classrooms; providing tours and experiential learning opportunities where students are permitted to view business aviation operations in action; and donating equipment to academic programs for training purposes.

Black also said that working closely with accredited local universities can help with any security concerns businesses may have in setting up an internship program. “By working with vetted programs and relying on relationships with established educators, you’re not just working with someone coming off the street,” he said.

Many states, including Ohio, are setting up funds to supplement industry-mentoring programs in order to keep jobs in-state, giving even more incentive for companies to get involved in such efforts. In this way, pipeline programs can be said to benefit not only students, companies and universities but also state economies.

“Several [industry] proposals to Ohio legislators in 2008 are now coming to fruition,” Black reports. “These efforts were pushed by the industry, the state and educators.”

The grassroots efforts in Minnesota and Ohio prove that career pipeline programs can succeed in introducing business aviation to students who might otherwise never be exposed to the industry during their college years. Through such initiatives, aviation students have the opportunity to discover a world that intrigues them, along with a wealth of job options and career opportunities in the coming years.

Forward-thinking flight departments just might want to consider the pipeline option as a way to attract and cultivate this next generation of aviation leaders.

For More Information

Read “Shoes to Fill: Does Your Flight Operation Have a Succession Plan?” in the November/December 2011 issue of Business Aviation Insider online.

How to Start Your Own Pipeline Program

Three ways that your company can immediately get started in developing its own aviation career pipeline program include:

  • Identify nearby collegiate aviation programs to partner with, as well as regional business aviation associations that might be able to provide support.
  • Reach out to meet faculty and offer support to professors and academic departments in developing mentoring opportunities.
  • Provide time and resources for aviation department members to participate and maintain healthy industry networking relationships in support of the effort.

For further guidance and ideas, refer to NBAA’s Business and Collegiate Aviation Pipeline Program Guide at

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