Aviation’s Unsung Heroes

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Sure, aviation companies need pilots and mechanics. But there are lots of behind-the-scenes jobs too – and many are well-suited for veterans.

Mention “careers in aviation” and most people think of pilots, mechanics and flight attendants. And there are, indeed, career opportunities in those fields. A report by the Federal Aviation Agency projects a need for pilots over the next several years due to less student interest in aviation careers, retirements and other natural attrition factors. That forecast predicts the need will continue well into the year 2025.


The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers flight training, so if flying is your passion Uncle Sam can help you realize your dream.


But there are also a lot of other career opportunities in aviation, and many of them are well-suited for veterans.


At Southwest Airlines, the top five careers veterans are hired into are some of those most commonly thought of – pilots, mechanics and flight attendants. But the company also recruits dispatch and ground operations, which includes customer service agents, ramp agents and provision agents.


Tina Clanton, senior corporate recruiter/military recruiting, says material specialist positions are also a good fit for transitioning veterans.


It was for Ashlei Cookman. Cookman, 25, who now lives in Bedford, Texas, served in the Air Force. Since she liked her job as a material specialist in the military, it seemed natural to look for a comparable position in the civilian world.


As a materials specialist at Southwest, Cookman is responsible for supporting the Technical Operations/Maintenance Department with aircraft parts, tooling, equipment and supplies that keep the department running. Her responsibilities include issuing, receiving, shipping, checking, classifying, inventorying and stocking parts, plus the preparation and maintenance of records and reports related to these materials.


“Applying for jobs that were similar to my job in the military allowed me to leverage my skillset,” she says.


Cookman felt her background would also allow her to be a viable employee from the get-go. “I wanted to be able to hit the ground running in my new career, and it was important to me to be able to bring some expertise to my position,” she says.


She did, and she likes it.


“It is something I enjoy doing, and it uses the job experience I gained in the military. I took pride in my military service, and I take pride in what I do each day at Southwest,” she says.


Southwest prides itself on a military friendly environment – 14 percent of the company’s workforce is veterans. And with what they deem as their “FUN-LUVing culture,” it makes going to work easy for Cookman.


“I love being able to be myself at Southwest and enjoy the camaraderie with the people I work with,” she says.


Southwest offers competitive salaries based on position, location, education and experience. Benefits include a comprehensive health and wellness benefit package, free flights, continued training and development, profit-sharing, an employee stock purchase plan and a 401(k) plan.


In an economy that’s still shaky, Southwest is growing.


“We’re continuing the integration of AirTran into the Southwest route network,” Clanton says. “In January, we acquired new slots at DCA (Reagan National Airport) and we are continuing to add domestic points to connect to our new and growing international network.”


That growth means job security and more career opportunities.


“We’ll be growing our fleet next year. All this to say, we’re growing, and we’ll need well-qualified employees to help us succeed in our vision of becoming the most loved, most flown and most profitable airline,” Clanton says.


Take Heed


Lockheed Martin also has a wealth of career opportunities for veterans. According to Teri Matzkin, manager of talent acquisition, military relations and strategic sourcing, there are careers in information technology with a strong emphasis on software and network development, support and security, along with a need for intelligence analysts, physical and facility security specialists, aircraft mechanics and maintenance specialists, electronic technicians, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers.


“Often military personnel have worked on, with or near Lockheed Martin products and systems. Veterans understand our customer and our mission,” Matzkin says.


Neri Olea, 27, found Lockheed Martin the ideal place to use his military experience and educational background. After serving as a paratrooper in the Army, Olea decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration. When he was getting ready to graduate, a friend recommended he take a close look at opportunities at Lockheed.


“He was aware of my military experience and coupled with my degree, thought it would be a perfect fit – and it is,” he says.


Olea is a logistics analyst with the Missiles and Fire Control Business Area. In this role, Olea is what he refers to as “embedded” with Lockheed Martin’s Apache customers and works with them to ensure products get to the customers on time.


“That is one thing I love about my job. Even though I am no longer in the military, I still get to work and serve with them in my role,” he says.


He also likes the fact that Lockheed has a large veteran population (veterans comprise 25 percent of the workforce) and has recently joined the Employee Resource Group (ERG) for veterans.


“They help find partner mentors so the more experienced veterans can assist the younger ones,” he says.


In addition to the mentors, the veterans ERG provides a built-in support group and military volunteer opportunities.


“These groups are often quite valuable in successfully transitioning military personnel into the private sector and go a long way toward creating an environment for maximum career growth,” Matzkin says.


Lockheed Martin offers competitive salaries and benefit packages in line with industry standards. And like Southwest, Lockheed Martin projects continued growth in various careers.


“We foresee continued demand for all of the aforementioned jobs. IT specialization will continue its strong growth and those looking to pursue opportunities in information assurance and cyber security can look forward to steady career growth over the long term,” Matzkin says.



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