Growing the next gen: Internships in aviation and aerospace

There has been no shortage of coverage surrounding the looming labour crisis in aviation and aerospace. Countless headlines have been written and reports have been filed about the outgoing wave of skilled labourers who will leave a huge gap to be filled by an insufficient number of young workers.

Scott McFadzean, CEO of Diamond Aircraft, believes keeping the younger generation of incoming workers engaged and interested in the industry will play a big role in attracting new talent. Air Canada Photo
Scott McFadzean, CEO of Diamond Aircraft, believes keeping the younger generation of incoming workers engaged and interested in the industry will play a big role in attracting new talent. Air Canada Photo
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So, what is the industry doing to counteract this “silver tsunami?” One effort that aims to combat the problem is the investment in incentive-based internships and apprenticeships across the industry.

In September, Bombardier announced it would be offering paid apprenticeship positions to more than 1,000 students annually in Quebec and Ontario. But the positions aren’t limited to aircraft production – in fact, the OEM stressed the opportunities are open to students pursuing careers in engineering, science, law, finance, and communications, among other business functions.

Marco Beaulieu, head of university collaboration at Bombardier, believes these multi-faceted opportunities are crucial if Canada wants to remain a major player in the aerospace industry.

“People are surprised that 40 per cent of our internships are not engineering related,” explained Beaulieu. “It’s not one-size-fits-all. It depends on what you’re looking for, what background you’ve got, and what the business needs. We have several offers in these areas that make the program quite interesting because you can do your true internship at Bombardier, and it looks like a totally different company because you’re in different departments.”

It’s not only Bombardier — several companies have recently announced the implementation of paid internship programs that will not only help attract workers to certain businesses, but train future employees who will go out and fill positions across the sector.

“We want to onboard them the same way that we onboard our full-time employees, giving them the importance of the ethics and compliance of our industry,” said Beaulieu. “So it’s not only at Bombardier, but overall in the industry to give them a full experience . . . the intent is to offer 100 per cent real work integrated learning (WIL) to the student.

“So Bombardier is right into that mindset to offer different things to many students, not only engineering,” he continued. “That’s mainly the reason why the aerospace sector is making a lot of effort. We have key players in the industry that are true sponsors of these types of business initiatives, and it’s across Canada. There’s college, university, industry, and it has to be all together if we as a sector want to remain in the top three of the aerospace industry compared to Toulouse and Seattle — we need to attract talent.”

Diamond Aircraft is another manufacturer that doesn’t limit internship options to strictly engineering students. With programs that range from finance to human resources, the piston-aircraft OEM with a facility in London, Ont., provides one-on-one training that Scott McFadzean, CEO of the company, believes is “better for both the student and us.”

Marco Beaulieu believes these internship programs will benefit the aviation and aerospace industries as a whole, rather than just the companies who offer them. Mike Reyno Photo

“There’s a lot of tertiary benefits that expand beyond just the internship itself,” he said. “Like creating close networks and partnerships with the institutions that are training the future generation of the aviation industry. We think it’s important to help shape that education and have academia and industry more closely linked, so [with] the training that’s being done, the schools are matching what industry really requires when they graduate.”

McFadzean noted that Diamond has begun to work with schools beyond the university and college level.

“We just launched a program with a high school called Every Student Flies, and that program is specifically for 14- to 16-year-olds to expose them to aviation and give them instruction and get them near airplanes. We give them time in the simulator and just expose them to what the industry is and what jobs are possible,” he explained. “Not just flying jobs, there’s just such a big gap between where we are now and what we need from an industry perspective that it’s really important to educate the youth and teach them about what is available and the type of pay that can be available.”

These programs don’t only benefit the companies that provide them; Beaulieu stressed that the positives of training young people across all sectors of aviation can be felt industry-wide.

“One of the roles of Bombardier is to be a good corporate citizen. It’s good that we attract people for us, that’s fine,” explained Beaulieu. “But if we have a vendor or a couple of partners that can’t do their job or provide their piece or their software because of a lack of resources or expertise, we are in trouble as well. So we need all of us to help each other because it’s an ecosystem. There are several players involved to build an aircraft, so if everyone gets the right resource at the right moment, everyone will succeed.”

While the recent influx of paid internships has been a positive effort towards reversing the labour shortage, these sorts of programs have existed for decades. So, what makes this new crop of apprenticeship programs different?

“The millennials are a different group than we’ve seen before in the workplace, but at the same time I think that adds some excitement, too,” said Diamond Aircraft’s McFadzean. “They think differently, they approach things differently, they seem to be a lot more open to being vocal and pushing for change.

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“They’re not as scared of change, I find, as the older generations of [the] workforce. So I think it’s more just understanding that culture, that general shift, and then trying to find ways to relate to them. To make coming to work fun and make it an exciting career with a clear path to progression and try [to] convince them not to jump around in their career, but to really think about where they want to be and where they want to end up.”

While engineering internships are important, companies also offer programs that focus on the business and human relations side of the industry. Heath Moffatt Photo
While engineering internships are important, companies also offer programs that focus on the business and human relations side of the industry. Heath Moffatt Photo

Numerous major OEMs have turned their attention towards attracting young talent. Along with Bombardier and Diamond, Viking offers an eight-week incentivized internship program called Viking Academy, and the re-established De Havilland of Canada offers a program separate from the Viking Academy — even though they both operate under the umbrella of Longview Aviation.

Additionally, CAE, known globally for its aviation simulators, offers students and recent grads the opportunity to earn while learning the tricks of the trade.

Although many of these offered programs require varying levels of knowledge and experience upon entry, these companies have aimed to attract fans of the craft. When it comes to selecting who to accept into its program, Diamond’s McFadzean believes it boils down to how passionate prospective interns are.

“I think we’re interested in people who have a passion for aviation and a passion for business and design,” he said. “We’re open and interested in any people who want to contribute to the industry, whether engineering [is] their specialty or whether they’re pilots or mechanics. It doesn’t really matter the background, I think we’re just looking for good, young, motivated people.”

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