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