Turn A Wrench, Save A Life
- Advanced Aircrew Academy
We talk often about looming or existing pilot shortages and, in desperate efforts to recruit, we sometimes launch inflated campaigns on the joys of flying, loudly encouraging our youth to take to the skies in romantic, enticing ways. We use the faces of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, or perhaps even Chuck Yeager to embody the glory and fame of aviation. We flock to see movie stars portray sexualized and adored renditions of pilots on the big screen, mostly male with an occasional female thrown in to keep the critics at bay.
What we don't often see are the real, true heroes that make aviation possible—the maintenance technician, both male and female. We sadly come up short if asked to name one popular, real world maintenance hero, though we delight in the memories of Cooter Davenport from the Dukes of Hazard, Fonzie from Happy Days, Vin Diesel as Dominic Toretto in the Fast and Furious franchise, and even Chewbacca from Star Wars. While Hollywood manages to make these mechanics both memorable and entertaining, award-winning speaker Eric Chester reminds us that in real life, "There ain't nothing sexy 'bout a blue collar job."
Boeing's recent outlook projects the global demand for aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) will far exceed the demand for pilots through 2041. While pilots tend to get the most attention, the reality is flight itself cannot safely occur if airframes can't maintain a consistent state of airworthiness. The magic of airworthiness only happens on a ramp, or perhaps in a sweltering hot or freezing cold hangar, both challenging environments that AMTs must endure. With mechanic shortages and demanding flight schedules, AMTs often work long hours under intense pressure. With these challenges, how do we realistically recruit new AMTs for the job that will require a high degree of dedication and intrinsic motivation?
These aren't easy questions, but perhaps we need to reshape how we market and normalize the profession as a whole. The AMT is the key to safe flight. We do not have an aviation industry without them. Sure, pilot skills are important, but a healthy airframe is the only place to start. It's where lives are saved or lost. The importance of the profession is profound.
The good news is that trade schools are remarkably cheaper than a college degree, take less time, and guarantee a widely marketable skill and ease of finding and keeping employment. The downside is there is often limited financial aid or prospects of advancement without having to break down and go for that additional college degree.
Still, the prestige of the mechanic is one that we need to elevate. Yes, the work is hard and dirty. But those brave enough for the challenge are arguably the most valuable assets we have. In a recent study by the National Institute of Health, three times as many current middle school students would rather be a personal assistant to a famous person than a U.S. Senator. Four times as many would pick the assistant job over being a CEO of a major corporation. It is a generation that dreams of fame and seemingly puts less emphasis on the value of hard work.
But there should be both an enormous value and surrounding fame in choosing a job of such importance. Likely the survey results would be the same if we asked those same students about their willingness to be a maintenance technician; however, as a community, we can boost our odds by ensuring that we not only show our current AMTs the love they deserve, but speak of that profession as one that is equally noble, hugely important, and allows any young worker to become the hero they dream to be.