NBAA Workforce Initiatives

Bookmark and Share

Connecting With Generation Z

To attract and retain Generation Z, business aviation will need to recalibrate its human resources mindset.

Connecting with Gen Z

As Baby Boomers age, Millennials are moving into management positions. As they do, a new generation – Generation Z (Gen Z) – is poised to enter the workforce.

Gen Z is defined as those born between 1995 and 2012. Most of these young people are currently in high school or college, but the oldest ones are now graduating, ready to enter the workforce.

The challenge for many industries is that what has always passed as a suitable workplace in which to build a career may no longer be valid for Gen Z. These younger people are different than their predecessors, which will require industries to find new ways to attract, hire and retain this next wave of workers.

If business aviation companies want to appeal to Gen Z, they must compete effectively in a marketplace filled with progressive tech companies that already provide the quality of life perks that a Gen Z employee expects.


“It is extremely important for the aviation industry to attract Gen Z applicants because we are experiencing an all-time high of qualified-pilot attrition and hiring at all the major airlines,” says Phil Gibson, an adjunct professor with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “For example, my data shows American Airlines has 561 retirements slated for 2018, and that number climbs each year for the next several years, with a high of 982 in year 2023. That’s just age 65 retirements, and just one airline.”

As everyone in business aviation knows, to address this talent drain, the airlines are aggressively recruiting new hires, often recruiting business aircraft pilots, maintenance technicians and other business aviation professionals to fill commercial aviation positions.

Dr. Daniel Prather, CAM, founding chair and professor of Aviation Science at California Baptist University, says that industries will need to change their protocols to attract younger workers.

“Gen Z interacts more through apps and texting than face-to-face contact,” Prather explained. “This may seem foreign to Baby Boomers, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who takes the time to truly understand the Gen Z culture. To these students, email is ‘old school’ and even Facebook is falling out of favor rapidly. These students live on Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter because, in their eyes, this is very productive technology. They view programs such as Excel and Word as very clunky technology and are far more comfortable asking Siri for an answer than spending time to conduct research through traditional channels.”

That’s not to say Gen Z workers will be less productive; they just will use different means to communicate.

“This generation is motivated, as long as the employer meets their needs,” Prather said. “To Gen Z, work is more than just a job, and they work for rewards, benefits, relationships, innovative perks, and, oh yes, pay as well.”


There is a perceived lack of acceptance of the workplace values of older employees by Gen Z, Gibson says. “The Gen Z worker will have to be willing to put their devices and technology away and make eye contact with these older work-groups.” he said.

But to understand what will make a work-place attractive to Gen Z, we first need to throw away the rulebook for what we know today. According to both Gibson and Prather, these workers value flex time, play time and social time in roughly equal amounts. They are not opposed to working hard.

“Gen Z employees prefer working hours that fit well with their social schedules,” Prather said, “and they are much more vocal about their workplace expectations, especially as it relates to social issues.”

However, Prather also points out that an employer should not feel pressured to change the entire company culture simply to attract Gen Z employees. Rather, the industry will have to help Gen Z understand why these established company values are important, crafting a compromise that accommodates all involved.


Tomorrow’s business aviation pilots, technicians and managers are in school, getting ready to enter the workforce. But to attract and retain them will require business aviation to re-tool and adjust its human resources mindset to integrate Gen Z.

Both Prather and Gibson say that the aviation industry must change its approach to outreach. Attendance at career fairs has declined, they say, as Gen Z would rather interact via social media than face-to-face. Prather and Gibson advise companies to produce short, high-energy videos that highlight the benefits of working in aviation and post the videos on social media channels such as YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter.

“This generation prefers watching video and listening rather than reading text. This is where the potential applicants are, and this is where the industry needs to be,” Prather said.

Some business aviation organizations have already been proactively reaching out to students. This year, Gulfstream Aerospace celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Student Leadership Program, a collaboration of more than 40 businesses and community partners that has graduated more than 1,000 students since inception. This four-year program is an example of how the industry can give students the opportunity to learn about careers in aviation while also going beyond academics to develop work readiness, leadership skills, professional etiquette, conflict resolution, time management and workplace communication skills.


NBAA’s regional representatives are working with regional groups to inform Gen Z students about careers in business aviation. Here are samples of those efforts.

NORTHEAST REGION – In New Hampshire, the Granite State Airport Management Association developed the Codie Experience, a youth outreach effort that has created a teen spokesman for aviation in NH. The program documents a young pilot’s aviation adventures and shares them as video content on social media channels frequented by Gen Z.

MID-ATLANTIC REGION – The Greater Washington Business Aviation Association works to introduce aviation to local youth, and NBAA also has outreach to students at Cardozo TranSTEM Academy in Washington, DC, and Denbigh High School in Norfolk, VA.

SOUTHEAST REGION – The Georgia Business Aviation Association has been investing in the next generation of business aviation leaders for over a decade and has awarded more than $600,000 in scholarships to 168 high school and college students.

CENTRAL REGION – Several active groups work to offer internships, coordinate events and scholarships, and maintain ties with local universities, including the Ohio Regional, Michigan, Western Michigan, Chicago Area and Greater St. Louis business aviation associations.

SOUTHWEST REGION – Steve Hadley, NBAA’s senior director of regional programs and Southwest regional representative, is on a new steering committee at Houston’s Sterling Aviation High School. Students at this school prepare for a future aviation career in a variety of ways, including classroom and laboratory training. Private flight lessons with a certified flight instructor are offered, and both airframe maintenance technology and power-plant maintenance technology pathways are available.

WESTERN REGION – The Arizona Business Aviation Association covers the travel expenses for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students to attend the annual NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition. The Southern California Aviation Association hosts up to 500 students annually for a one-day career-focused program at area airports. Los Angeles World Airports also hosts 1,500 high school students each year for an aviation career day at Van Nuys Airport.

NORTHWEST REGION – The Pacific Northwest Business Aviation Association reaches out to Gen Z students. For example, members work closely with Raisbeck Aviation High School on mentoring programs and scholarships, and the asso-ciation also targets younger people through the Redtail Hawks Association and the Washington Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.


Thanks in part to the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, aviation high schools are attracting capable students who are passionate about aviation and know they can get a good job right out of high school, if they desire. Here are some of these notable high schools.

AVIATION HIGH SCHOOL, LONG ISLAND CITY, NY – This is one of the nation’s oldest aviation high schools. Originally a building trades school founded in 1925, an aviation maintenance program was added in the 1930s. Today, the 2,000-student school has an FAA-certified program, a 10,000-square-foot hangar, a test cell for powerplant students and a number of specially designed and equipped aviation maintenance shop classrooms. The school has an annex at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, where some seniors are paired up with a technician or engineer at a participating airline for a hands-on internship. Nearly 100 percent of these students are offered jobs upon graduation.

CLEARWATER AERONAUTICAL SPACE ACADEMY (CASA), CLEARWATER, FL – At this academy, which is part of Clearwater High School, students can take classes at partner institution Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and be dual-enrolled for up to 30 college credits. Courses are offered in several areas: professional pilot, engineering, space, unmanned aerial systems, and aviation maintenance science. “CASA is an excellent opportunity for our students to be fully engaged in a STEM program that will give students rigorous and relevant real-world applications with college credit and an industry certification,” said Keith Mastorides, school principal.

DENBIGH HIGH SCHOOL AVIATION ACADEMY, NEWPORT NEWS, VA – This school has aviation magnet courses, many of them offered at an “airport campus” at Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. Students can take one of four pathways: aviation technology, flight operations, aerospace engineering, and aviation security and safety. Denbigh encourages students to take the FAA ground school course, and the school has three flight simulators and a wind tunnel. Students in the technology pathway have the opportunity to help build an RV-12 plane.

RAISBECK AVIATION HIGH SCHOOL, TUKWILA, WA – This Seattle-area institution is the only college preparatory, aviation-themed high school in the Pacific Northwest. Located near a number of aviation organizations, some of the school’s partners include the Museum of Flight, The Boeing Co., Alaska Air Group, Raisbeck Engineering, Blue Origin and The Port of Seattle.

TANGO FLIGHT, GEORGETOWN, TX – This program offers a STEM course in building a functioning RV-12 aircraft over the course of a school year. Students learn about all aspects of aviation and aerospace engineering through the hands-on experience of building the airplane.

WICHITA PUBLIC SCHOOLS, WICHITA, KS – The state’s first aviation technical education pathway is starting this fall and features two distinct paths: aviation production and aviation maintenance. The program was developed by Wichita Public Schools in partner-ship with WSU Tech and Textron Aviation. “Working with industry leaders like Textron Aviation is part of our overall vision for Kansas education,” said Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson. “Bringing together Kansas schools and businesses supports our efforts to help students explore career opportunities they may have never thought of.”


This article originally appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of Business Aviation Insider. Download the magazine app for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.