North Lan­caster woman wants you to fol­low a ca­reer in the sky

The Glengarry News - - Straight Talk - BY STEVEN WAR­BUR­TON News Staff

Melissa Fer­gu­son is on a mis­sion to re­cruit young peo­ple into the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. The 25-year-old North Lan­caster res­i­dent, who is pro- gram di­rec­tor for Ot­tawa Avi­a­tion Ser­vices (OAS), says that there will be many jobs avail­able in the field in the very near fu­ture. The in­dus­try will be look­ing for pi­lots, flight at­ten­dants, me­chan­ics, air traf­fic con­trollers, dis- patch­ers and ramp per­son­nel.

As ev­i­dence, she cites the re­cently pub­lished Labour Mar­ket In­for­ma­tion Re­port that was compiled by the Cana­dian Coun­cil for Avi­a­tion & Aero­space, which pre­dicts that Canada’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try will need to hire 55,000 new work­ers by 2025 if it wants to keep pace with pro­jected growth.

Ms. Fer­gu­son says that there’s such a short­age of pi­lots right now that air­lines are hir­ing less ex­pe­ri­enced fly­ers. They are also woo­ing flight in­struc­tors away from flight schools, cre­at­ing a short­age of qual­i­fied teach­ers.

“This means we can’t train the next gen­er­a­tion,” she says. “For those who do be­come flight in- struc­tors, there’s such a high turn­around be­cause they move on so quickly into an air­line.”

It’s prob­lem­atic be­cause there’s a high pub­lic de­mand for air travel while Baby Boomer pi­lots are pre­par­ing for re­tire­ment.

Ms. Fer­gu­son spends two days ev­ery week at the school’s Ot­tawa of­fice and two at the Corn­wall of­fice. It op­er­ates out of the NavCan cen­tre but flies out of the Corn­wall air­port near Sum­mer­stown.

A big part of her job is to look for po­ten­tial pi­lots. On May 4, OAS held an open house at the in­ter­na­tional air­port in Ot­tawa. About 35 peo­ple showed up and got to meet rep­re­sen­ta­tives of three of the air­lines that OAS part­ners with.

Upon grad­u­a­tion, pi­lots can likely find work fly­ing air­craft such as pas­sen­ger, cargo and sur­vey planes.

Un­for­tu­nately, there are some ob­sta­cles, per­haps the big­gest of which is cost. Ms. Fer­gu­son says that OAS’s 18-month full-time course costs $82,000.

Ms. Fer­gu­son says there are dif­fer­ent grants and schol­ar­ships avail­able and that OAS of­fers em­ploy­ment at the school – ramp crew and dis­patch – to help bring in some ex­tra funds.

An­other prob­lem, she says, is that there are a lot of myths about what can dis­qual­ify you from be­ing a pi­lot.

“Some peo­ple think you can’t be a pi­lot if you wear glasses or if you’re too tall,” she says. “Nei­ther is true.”

She says that it’s fairly easy to be­gin flight train­ing. All you need is a high school diploma. In fact, you can start work­ing to­ward a pri­vate pi­lot’s li­cence as young as 14.

There is still a gen­der im­bal­ance

Gen­der im­bal­ance is an is­sue. Ms. Fer­gu­son points out that only seven per cent of Cana­dian pi­lots are women, some­thing she’d like to rec­tify.

“I think there’s a stigma where women don’t think they can be a pi­lot and have a fam­ily,” she says.

All in all, she says her mis­sion is to help young peo­ple con­sider avi­a­tion as a vi­able ca­reer op­por­tu­nity.

She says that be­cause of her job, she is some­times asked if she’s a flight in­struc­tor.

“I al­ways say I pre­fer man­ag­ing from the ground,” says the 25-year-old, who holds a Masters Cer­tifi­cate in project man­age­ment from Car­leton Uni­ver­sity as well as a Bach­e­lor’s De­gree in Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa.

Heather Fer­gu­son

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