The military has always played a major role in advancing aviation.
So it’s no surprise the majority of today’s avionics technicians are veterans. If you’re in avionics, you know there’s no room for inexperienced workers here — lives depend on the on-board electric systems you install and maintain.
But how do avionics technicians make the most of their experience when they transition from the military? Where are the jobs, what do they pay, and what’s the best way to get them?
Whether it’s for assembly or maintenance work, employers are looking for avionics technicians who mastered the trade in the service. Johnson estimates that veterans account for 80% of the technicians he places. It’s easy to understand why.
“The military is the only place where you can find someone with actual experience,” says Johnson. “There are schools with AP certification classes that include an avionics course, but that’s not the same as hands-on experience. No employer is going to take somebody who’s green.”
Knowing the transition to the civilian workforce can be challenging, Johnson takes steps to help veterans manage the change. He uses his network of military veteran contractors to connect with veterans taking on their first civilian job. A current contractor can talk from experience, give a tour of the workplace, and help manage expectations.
“Our job is to make candidates feel as comfortable as possible,” Johnson says. “We let them know that we work with veterans all the time.”
Johnson maintains contact with the veterans he places throughout the length of their contracts. He’ll check in with the employer as well, and make sure that the job is a good fit for both sides.
“It’s about customer service and building relationships. A lot of the technicians I’ve placed right out of the military are still working with me five or six years later.”
If you like the road warrior lifestyle and are willing to go where the work is, you’ll be rewarded with steady work and higher pay.
“As a contractor in aviation, the biggest thing is mobility,” Johnson says. “I’ll ask a candidate where they want to go, but also where they’re willing to go. The more open they are to travel, the more options they have.”
Most aviation maintenance and manufacturing companies are located in areas with low cost of living because employers need large, affordable spaces. That’s good news if you’re looking to save money, but may be less attractive if big city life is high on your priority list.
Because out-of-state contractors receive per diem pay, contractors take home more money than local, permanent employees who do the same job. That’s why many technicians stick with contract work, even if they’re offered a permanent gig.
“Our typical contracts last between six and 12 months, with salaries ranging from $25 to $30 an hour,” says Johnson. “At that point, employers may offer a direct hire. But because of the money, a lot of contractors prefer to move on to another contract.”
What advice would Johnson give to a veteran with avionics experience who is transitioning to civilian life and considering contract work?
Be open to opportunities, use the resources that are available to you, and focus on what’s best for you.
“The more open you are, the more opportunity there's going to be. Recruiters a free resource — we don’t charge you anything — so why not see if one can help you?”