Gilbert Is Panelist at Key DOT Workforce Conference
Thursday, June 21, 2012
NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert served as a panelist at the Department of Transportation's Second Semi-Annual Aviation Workforce-Management Conference on Thursday.
The discussion centered on how the aviation industry needs to be more proactive in educating our youth about the many career opportunities in aviation.
“Certainly our workforce is not as diverse as we would like it to be,” Gilbert said. “But we have a unique opportunity to give kids the confidence that they can be an air traffic controller, an engineer or one of the many other aviation safety professionals keeping the system safe and competitive and then we need to help them figure out how to actually get the jobs.”
Gilbert said her path to becoming an air traffic controller should be the exception, not the norm. She said she worked near Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH), when she met several controllers. She was intrigued by the profession and they encouraged her to apply. She then spent 21 years as an air traffic controller at Houston Center (ZHU) before coming to Washington, D.C., in 2009 to serve as NATCA’s Executive Vice President.
She went on to say that the word-of-mouth technique isn’t enough to attract a wide array of talent. Additionally, the lack of stability in the aviation industry also makes long-term educational commitments to a field difficult. With federal workers under attack, airlines in bankruptcy and so much uncertainty recruitment will remain difficult. Said Gilbert: "To attract quality employees and retain them, you need a good employer; one that is counting on them, respecting them and encouraging them to be passionate about what they do. They can then help accomplish what the employer wants to do."
“Clearly it’s no secret that the industry has seen more ups and downs than we would have liked,” she said. “It’s important to recruit in order to keep the jobs in the U.S.”
Gilbert was joined on the panel by Tim Farley, the vice president of engineering for Gulfstream; Jamail Larkins, an accomplished pilot and the president of Ascension Aviation; and Dr. Patricia Watts, the FAA national program director for the Air Transportation Centers of Excellence Program. The moderator was Dr. Tara Harl, the founder and executive director of Aviation Workforce Development.
The panelists agreed that to get young adults interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related fields, it is important to pique their interest before they enter high school. Farley said an effective technique his company uses to recruit engineers and managers for his private jet business is to offer interns a job before they have even graduated from college.
“We are finding that this is something you have to do to address retention problems,” Farley said. “It is important to keep a pipeline of young people, or you may lose them.
At the end of the 40 minute-long panel, there seemed to be consensus that minority and female outreach needs to grow, although specific solutions are harder to come by. Harl said she has spent 30 years working in aviation, but the field still hasn’t found a solid solution to attract more diversity. Women and minorities would respond well to role models who look like them, but the key is to get the first people in the door.
“We have a huge brain drain and retirement wave in our midst,” Harl said. “The question is, what are we going to do about it?”
Earlier in the seminar, NATCA also received praise from FAA ATO Chief Operating Officer David Grizzle, who moderated a labor/management panel. He saw Gilbert in the audience, and mentioned how successful the recent contract extension negotiations were between management and the union.
“I think we and NATCA have a very productive relationship, for which I’m grateful,” Grizzle said. “We just had a contract negotiation that went very smoothly, and their leadership deserves a lot of credit for that.”