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Elevate Aviation has concluded its annual cross-country tour aimed at introducing women to the numerous careers the aviation industry has to offer.
With 20 different stops across Canada, Elevate offered a chance to go behind-the-scenes of the aviation sector, giving tours of aircraft and facilities, air traffic control towers, hangars and much more. There couldn’t be a timelier event aimed at young women, as the demand for new workers in the Canadian aviation industry is paramount.
It’s no secret that Canada’s aviation industry has a looming crisis on the horizon. In the coming years, it has been widely reported that a shortage of skilled workers is going to impact the aviation sector. From pilots to baggage handlers, young people entering the aviation industry are vastly outnumbered by those who are nearing retirement. According to the Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace (CCAA) the percentage of the workforce over the age of 45 is 45.6 per cent, as opposed to the 6.5 per cent of those 25 and under. That is a massive drop off compared to the total overall workforce, where workers under 25 comprise 13.1 per cent of it.
“I just think it’s something that’s not in the forefront of people’s brains, it’s not one of those ‘name-in-lights’ careers, and then the expense and time of doing it is quite alarming,” said Kristi Brown, an air traffic controller with Nav Canada. “Also, the predictability…when I started out it was a pretty big gamble. When my husband started flying, he didn’t fly for seven years. He couldn’t get a job anywhere but that was back in the early 2000s. The gamble is spending all that time and then at the end of the day you’re only trained for one thing, [so] you can’t really transfer that to something else if there are no jobs or if the economy sucks at that time.”
Even more jarring is the number of women in aviation – for pilots alone, the global percentage of women in the flight deck sits at just three per cent, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The administrative side doesn’t look much better, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) only three per cent of airline CEOs are women. In the classroom, female students only make up 16 per cent of those studying for careers in the aviation and aerospace industries.
“The stories we hear over and over and over, almost every attendee asks, ‘Why haven’t we heard about these careers?’ ” said Kendra Kincade founder of Elevate Aviation, an air traffic controller for 19 years now acting as an employer brand specialist with Nav Canada. “There’s just a huge lack of awareness for these careers…and they all love it; they love these jobs that we’re showing.”
Kincade is the impetus behind the Elevate cross-country tour, a free event that introduces women across Canada to the plethora of possible aviation careers. Each tour stop included a fun presentation by four different women of different backgrounds, working in separate sectors of the industry. Following each presentation and meet-and-greet, the girls would spend their afternoons touring many aspects of airports and hangars.
“It’s a wonderful collaboration between the industry itself and the women that are working in the industry…. We have women who are working in the industry who are volunteering to be speakers, hosts, and facilitators, and then we have industry partners stepping up to sponsor the events,” explained Kincade. “We get companies like Nav Canada opening their doors all across the country. They’re our one consistent all across the country, we go to Nav Canada in every location and they always open up their doors from coast to coast…Many companies provide snacks and lunch, a lot of them provide swag to give away, and provide locations to host the event.”
Elevate, a non-profit organization based in Edmonton, Alta., was founded in 2015 by Kincade to push women towards careers in aviation – be that as a pilot, air traffic controller or engineer. Their primary vision is to work alongside industry professionals to promote diversity in the workplace.
Brown, who spoke during the Calgary tour, said there were plenty of keen young women in attendance itching to learn about the possibilities of careers in aviation.
“There were definitely a couple of girls there that really had some goals and they were working towards getting their AME licence, or another young girl who was only in Grade 9 and she really wanted to be an air traffic controller,” said Brown. “Another girl came up and she didn’t really have any big goals that she expects to meet personally, but I brought her up on one of my little tours of the tower cab and when she got up there she just broke into this big smile and was like, ‘Oh my goodness this is what I want to do.’ ”
The tour went coast-to-coast, making stops in places like Yellowknife, Fort St. John, Toronto, Regina and Halifax. Kincade estimates they had 1,000 women of all ages come out for the presentations, a huge increase from their first year, 2014, where they had 12 attendees at one stop in Edmonton.
Logistically it is a ton of work, not made any easier by the fact that Elevate is powered completely by volunteers.
“It’s a lot of work, it takes months to plan…a lot of people around the country putting in a lot of time to create these things,” said Kincade. “There’s different people helping in different ways — we have women who are working in the industry who are volunteering to be speakers and hosts… It’s a wonderful collaboration between the industry itself and the women that are working in the industry.”
Many of the tour attendees were young, most just getting into high school, which makes tracking the success of the program difficult. But when adult women attend, the impact is evident. According to Kincade, two women who attended last year in Toronto were hired by Porter Airlines after the presentation, while another two were hired by North Cariboo Air this year after the tour’s stop in Edmonton.
The speakers are part of the reason the tour is so engaging. Elevate encourages the professionals to add a more human side to their stories, rather than map out the logistics behind potential career paths. “Our speakers all tell a personal story before they talk about their career,” said Kincade.
“They talk about how they got into aviation or hurdles they have faced in their life that led them to aviation and we really make it clear that these are not career fairs,” continued Kincade. “They’re really empowerment days, just to try and encourage women…even if it’s not aviation, they’ll be moved by the stories they hear from the women we bring in.”
It’s a rewarding event. The feedback that Kincade and the team at Elevate hear from attendees drives them to keep putting in the effort year after year. To know that they’ve opened the eyes of the young women is what really matters.
“Our goal is to try to help women be aware that these careers are out there, so they in turn can find a career they love and provide themselves with economic security, so that they’re able to create a life they love and don’t have to rely on anyone else if they choose not to,” said Kincade.