Mechanically Inclined? Consider an Aviation Job

The aviation industry has reached new heights in hiring. There’s high demand for qualified employees across much of Canada, with airplane manufacturers hiring hundreds of people for key projects.

With an abundance of skilled workers retiring from the industry and fewer people choosing technical schools, aviation needs to fill vacancies. If you’re willing to head where you’re needed most — companies in Québec, Ontario and British Columbia have the highest demand for employees in aviation.

To get a deeper sense of all this aviation commotion, we talked to Grant Gosselin, an Aerotek aviation field recruiter in Montréal. Get an inside look at what employers want in candidates, what it takes to get qualified for these jobs and how to fly toward success.

Transferable skills for aviation jobs

With business booming, employers are on the hunt for structural technicians, mechanical assemblers/mechanics and avionics technicians. If you’re a mechanic, work in general construction, or work for an automotive manufacturer, your hands-on experience, technical skills and aptitude may transfer to a few key roles.

So what are they? Structural technicians, a.k.a. structural mechanics, are the “sheet metal folks” who install and assemble different metal components into aircraft parts. Mechanics handle any of the mechanical and system installations, while avionics technicians focus on a plane’s electronic equipment, such as radar systems, navigation aids and communication devices.

“To perform structural work, you have to insert the mechanical components into the aircraft. You need a structural assembler who can take off your panels and open up the work area for you. The mechanic will then go in and do the necessary adjustments, which are sometimes quite technical — even more technical than a car because an aircraft operates with a lot more gravitational force and technical necessity,” Gosselin says. 

But there’s more than hands-on and technical skills required.

License and certification (sometimes) required

You also typically need special licenses to work on an aircraft. You need the M1 to work on smaller aircrafts and the M2 for larger ones. The M2 license is the required standard to work as a licensed mechanic for any company. You don’t need the M1 to get the M2.

How to get your M2 license:

  • Complete your technical school
  • Log 700 hours work under the supervision of a licensed mechanic
  • Pass your exams

“On top of that, if you're with a company long enough, and they're open to paying for your extra training or endorsements, you can also get your ACA, which is your Aircraft Certifying Authority. This basically means you’re the person onsite who certifies that the aircraft is flight-worthy,” Gosselin says. To get your ACA license, you must first earn your M2 license.

Depending on how quickly you can complete your logbook and exams, it usually takes three to four years to get your licenses. In the meantime, you can continue working under the supervision of a licensed mechanic. With fewer licensed individuals in the marketplace, the industry is more flexible with these requirements than it used to be.

What to expect for success

When you’re looking to break into aviation, expect to answer interview questions related to your job history and experience, including: Have you done anything more complicated than car work?

“I would recommend that candidates express their technical aptitude but also be vulnerable enough to admit they don't have experience in aerospace and are open to learning. With a couple solid references from former supervisors who can talk to your ability to be adaptable, think on your toes and learn quickly, vulnerability can go a long way,” Gosselin says.

After you get a job, you’ll take aptitude tests to ensure you’re on par with a company’s standards. One of Aerotek’s largest aerospace clients requires several written aptitude tests full of multiple choice and scenario-based questions from readily available college textbooks. Intimidating? Sure. But the client also offers study guides.

Transitioning to the aviation atmosphere involves more than completing technical education, so be prepared to study for these tests and gather all the knowledge you can. And if you haven’t completed technical school for aviation, enroll in a part-time program.

According to Gosselin, “If you come from an automotive background and can get your foot in the door with an aerospace company, I recommend taking it upon yourself to do extra schooling to get that specific technical knowledge about aviation that you didn't have before. That's going to lend itself well to your hands-on experience — adding to your employability and your career as a whole.”

The additional education and certifications the aviation industry demands can help you earn up to $65 an hour. Plus, when you’re working on planes that carry hundreds of people thousands of miles at high speeds – there’s no room for mistakes.

It’s all in the attitude

You may sense a theme here: To thrive in the world of aviation, be open to learning and growing. Whether you have one year of experience or 30, you’ll end up in new situations that stretch you.

The people with the best shot at getting into and remaining in aviation have proven they can think on their feet, adapt well and can pick up new skills on the fly.

The best way to approach unknown territory is to say, “Can someone show me? I’d love to learn.” Many aviation supervisors are willing to teach you if you’re open to it and you’re honest about what you don’t know.

Take it from Gosselin: “An attitude will make or break someone’s career.”

Get a move on

Gosselin’s take is that 99 percent of aviation workers are down-to-earth and level-headed, which makes for an enjoyable work environment.

So, with opportunities to learn and excel, stable pay and a dynamic work environment, why not zoom into aviation?