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The Job Market May Be Bad; What About The Applicants?

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The business of matching aviation jobs with qualified applicants can provide a different perspective on the broader health of the aerospace industry. We spoke with one source in that position who is seeing some positive movement with jobs but believes the longterm prognosis isn't good. And, if he's right, the problem might not be something that an upturn in the economy is going to fix.

The internet is making it easier for more job seekers to find job postings, but that -- almost by definition -- isn't making those jobs any easier to get. Worse, it may also be affecting the quality of the applicants, or at least their applications. AVweb recently spoke with Jeff Richards, manager of the online aviation employment resources website JSfirm.com. Richards believes that the economy is bad, but that "the aviation industry is hanging in there." But he also fears that a positive shift in the economy might not be the only thing the aviation industry needs to assure its footing. According to Richards, much bigger systemic forces are causing problems that could outlast any economic downturn, and as an industry we may begin feeling their impact, soon. Below we'll take look at the market and how job applicants can best position themselves. Then we'll address the broader concern.

About The Source

JSfirm has served the aviation and aerospace industry since 1999. It has offices in Fort Worth and outside of Pittsburgh. For employers, the company's website provides a platform to showcase open job positions. For job seekers it provides a place to showcase their resumes and search an actively maintained database of real aviation jobs. JSfirm networks with about 4,000 aviation websites to advertise positions, recruit personnel, and provide other services around those functions. It stores a database of over 200,000 resumes and has hosted roughly 130,000 job ads -- many of those for multiple positions. The service is free for job seekers, and sponsored by job providers. "These are real jobs," says Richards.

Richards has served the company as manager for the past five years -- a difficult stretch for most sectors of the economy. He sees and actively works to assist both sides of the jobs equation, job seeker and job provider. And from where he sits, the problems facing aviation aren't pinned to the hiring side.

Aside from the employers, Richards works with job seekers, advising them where he can to help them better showcase their skills and find the right match for their skill sets and aspirations. Online communication helps with that, but Richards is aware that the facility of electronic communication also comes with pitfalls, especially for job seekers.

"I work for a dot com," Richards explains, "what keeps me up at night is being user friendly. I almost fear we're making it too easy to apply to jobs now." He knows what you're thinking. "I know that sounds insane," says Richards, until he explains his logic. Richards explains that hundreds of applicants aren't just applying for the same job, they're applying for hundreds of jobs. It puts different stresses on both the employer and applicant. In many cases the end result is that more employers are getting fewer targeted applications and more job seekers aren't hearing back. In each case, there are different reasons.

But, according to Richards, applicants need to stay aware of how the economy has dictated the rules of the game. Richards says companies need to be efficient with their time and they need to find the best fit for the lowest cost. At the same time pplicants need to remember that it's not the same on their end -- to be competitive they need to make the extra effort regardless of whether or not that effort is returned.

Getting A Job

Richards counsels job seekers with common sense. "I hear from my companies … guys showing up for interviews not wearing professional business attire. Where do we correct that? I don't know." It may be a digital age, but the old rules still apply. "People need to send a cover letter," he says. "They need to make the case for why they want to work for that company. They need to explain why the company should hire them. And if they had an interview and didn't hear back, they still need to send a thank you letter."

It may seem like job-search 101, but in the world of instant electronic application filing, with no reply expected, Richards reminds job seekers that they are making a mistake if they allow feeling like a faceless resume to turn them into one. "We're getting less formal on both sides. Seekers need to realize how they're playing into it, too." The process may be different but, according to Richards, things really haven't changed so much. "The cover letter will likely be the difference-maker. 'Dear Sir, here's why I like your company and here's why I'm qualified.'" Richards says in the eyes of an employer you're either a set of statistics or you're a person. Richards believes people get hired, and a personal touch makes that difference.

Greenhorns

We asked Richards how current conditions affected greenhorns just trying to break into the industry … if employers had shifted their interests to lower cost employees with more room to grow or if they favored more experienced, more expensive hires. Richards' response was that, generally speaking, employers haven't changed. They still want the most qualified individual they can get for the best price. And he went on to describe how that statement could hold opportunity.

Applicants who can bring something above and beyond the outright qualifications, like a degree or training in a related area, are likely to have a leg up on the competition, according to Richards. But those extra degrees aren't likely to help much if the rest of an applicant's qualifications are weak. "This is a problem that's not unique to aviation," Richards says. "If you come out of school with a management degree, that doesn't necessarily make you qualified as a manager." It will, of course, help if the company chooses to use a degree to set the bar. "They choose to require a four year degree, for example, as a requirement."

But it's all about context, says Richards.

"A 22-year-old kid with a degree isn't going to get much attention. But, an A&P mechanic with real work experience who goes back to school to get a degree … they're well sought after." The question for the experienced applicant may be whether a financial investment in more education is worth the return financially and otherwise. As far as Richards is concerned, "a qualified guy with real world experience who goes to get the degree, he'll be OK." As always, greenhorns -- but pilots especially -- often just need to take what they can get.

Playing For Advantage

A few years of recession can deliver odd benefits, even for the industry's greenhorns. "The downturn drove a lot of people out of the industry -- they needed work and they found it elsewhere. They're not coming back," says Richards. And that may bring some opportunities, even now, as the industry attempts to regain its footing. "Now there's more demand for fabricators, sheet metal, structural builders, CNC operators, bench technicians and wire harness installers. It seems they're kind of coming back a bit."

Richards feels he's seeing some rebound in those areas of the industry and is expecting to see some positive growth in 2013, particularly at companies on the smaller end of the scale. "I'm seeing the biggest uptick in smaller companies … 30 people and under … for them, I think 2013 is going to be their year." The uptick is relative. "If you've got a 20 person company hiring five people, that's a 25 percent increase in growth for that company," Richards explains. "Those companies took a beating three and four years ago. You won't see them making big splash news headlines. It's the end of the industry that tends to get forgotten about. But that's where I think most of the jobs are going to come from this year." For job seekers, that may be a suggestion of where to look. But not necessarily for pilots.

"For pilots, it's always going to be the same," Richards says. "You're going to spend a fortune to get certified. The FAA increased the minimum time. You're going to make low pay to start. And you're going to have to move. That's somewhat unique to aviation -- you do have to move to get a job." And Richards doesn't mean moving across the country. He means moving out of it. "Especially now, you have to move to where the market is hot. Right now, for fixed wing, you might have to look at a move to Asia. The Middle East has demand for helicopter and corporate pilots. And mechanics are in pretty high demand. The airlines aren't pulling as many people, there, though. For that, there is some movement in Asia."

The Bigger Problem

Putting a focus on pilots is a bit of a sore spot for Richards whose mission is to place all manner of aviation professionals into good aviation jobs. The work naturally provides him with a wider field of view and a passionate perspective. "Maybe it's a pet peeve of mine, but I'm tired of hearing about a pilot shortage. It's coming. It's here… . It's true, the recent regulatory changes, the increase in hours required, that won't help. But the industry is a lot more than pilots. The pilot situation gets a lot of press, but the lack of attention in other areas may hurt us."

Richards sees a broader problem that sometimes gets lost in the glamour surrounding the pilot base. "A healthy aviation industry is just as much about the guys who build and prepare. You don't see articles about the skilled trades that build and maintain the industry. There's a whole support system that needs to be strengthened," he says. Richards sees that the foundation upon which we build a healthy industry has been weakened, in part due to the economy. But the affects of that weaker infrastructure may be longer lasting.

"When the economy tanked, people left aviation," he says. "The jobs have waned a bit and we're not getting those people back." Richards sees a shift in societal culture that is leading people away from aviation. "World War II, the baby boomers and that whole generation saw the birth of aviation. Now flying is common. It isn't sexy anymore. And we're not getting a good solid influx of kids coming in to fill the ranks. I'm going to offend some people, but we're not getting the same quantity of quality applicants. Good, quality, kids still become engineers,' says Richards, "but most of them work for Google."

Is There An Answer?

If Richards is right, and it's not addressed by foreign talent with a different view of aviation, Richards suggests the scale of the problem needs to be reflected in the scale of the solution. "The industry as a whole needs to do a better job of promoting itself. The manufacturers, the associations and the schools… . We need to find a way to get people excited about aviation and start a career in aviation. I don't have a simple answer for that. But that needs to happen soon."

But what if it doesn't? "Companies in our industry are feeling it now. We have a recruitment problem. Wait another five years and they're really going to be feeling it." Richards final comments on the subject are delivered like the warning that they are:

"We need to work on driving people into aviation. Now."

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