by Michael Schuster, Principal Consultant, Aviation Solutions
“Instructing isn’t a real job, it’s just a stepping stone.” Have I got your blood boiling yet? Mine is just writing the statement.
We can go on at length as to why statements like this exist; in fact it’s a popular topic at our instructor courses. But in this blog entry, I would like to look at what we instructors, as a group, keep doing to build stereotypes like this – and how we can start repairing this image right away.
The first step is to admit that yes, many people use flight instructing as a step in their career; many others do not. Many people also use bush flying, charter, medevac, corporate, and regional airline flying as a stepping stone or “time building” as well. Why is instructing pointed out as a “step” more often than those areas of flying? I believe that a lot of the time, we do it to ourselves.
Part of our job is to provide career guidance to students and explain to prospective students how the industry works; when they walk in the door asking how much money it will cost and how many years it will it take until they are flying a B787? As instructors, we need to make things simple on a daily basis to do our jobs well (simple to complex, known to unknown, etc.). But I believe that we are over simplifying the industry in an effort to explain it to our customers. Figure 1 shows a chart I came across recently on an otherwise very nice flight school website.
Here’s my problem with this chart (that many of us use a version of): It very clearly makes the student feel that as an instructor you don’t care about them. You are here to build time and move on; flying time logged is more important than the quality of your instruction. It also doesn’t take the time to address many other areas of flying in this country such as corporate aviation. It also indicates that if you are an instructor, you can’t jump to another stream (ie an Air Taxi). And finally, it shows everyone ending up at the same place when it’s all said and done (the day your ATPL is issued of course).
The first thing we need to tell a student who asks about a career in aviation is that they need to put the image of airline pilot aside for a moment. Yes, that is what they are probably most familiar with and so they initially perceive that as their career goal. But instead of saying how to get there, why not point out all of the other areas of aviation – less than 25% of CPL and ATPL holders in this country work in what the public considers an “airline job”. That means 75% of us have found other places we really enjoy.
For some, they like teaching, others enjoy living in the Muskokas and a medevac job makes sense for them; others love the travel and lifestyle of corporate. What’s important is to let the student know how many opportunities are out there and that it IS possible to move around into different types of flying. Keeping in mind that these days airline flying involves short layovers, much lower pay than the boom of the jet age, and other factors that make it less attractive than it once was. Many other areas of aviation are worth considering and they really do compete if you stick with them long enough.
Ultimately, if someone wants an airline career after they learn about aviation it certainly is possible! But I would suggest you explain it like I have in Figure 2. You can see that this version of the chart indicates instructing as a specialty since it requires additional training. You could compare the centre stream to a general practice physician, while instructing and float flying require additional training to become specialists. By making some small changes, instructing is now shown as a choice that was made, requiring additional expertise, and leading to a very rewarding career! You can also see how a float rating or instructor rating opens up more doors as your career progresses.
By showing your pilot prospects in less simplistic terms how the industry works, we can remove a negative stereotype that we have been propagating ourselves! Over time I believe this can show students we are not there to “use them” and that instructing is a valuable and important job in the aviation sector (which it is!) and instructors will find that they have earned more respect. Of course, individual conduct is a factor, but that is a whole other topic for a future blog entry. In the meantime, consider how you explain your profession to both potential and current students. Be sure that you aren’t setting yourself up to lose respect before you’ve even started teaching.
Michael Schuster is an ATP Class 1 Instructor and authorized Flight Instructor Refresher Course provider. For more information visit www.aviationsolutions.net/instructor.php or email firstname.lastname@example.org.