How To Get Hired as a Maintenance Engineer Contractor
While some jobs do not require much training and workers are plentiful, the field of aircraft engineering enjoys no such luxury. The complexity of the job – maintaining the airworthiness of airplanes by keeping them in sound mechanical and flying condition – requires extensive training and experience.
27 Jan 2016
You do not want to be the airline company known for mechanical failures. That’s why you only hired trained and qualified aircraft engineers and support staff. These kinds of employees do not grow on trees, though, so to fill some aircraft maintenance engineering positions, airline companies are turning to short-term, or contract employees.
Let’s look at what companies are looking for in these kinds of contractors, and how you can maximize your chances of being hired as a contractor and earning an aeronautical engineering salary.
Why Use Contractors?
First, why do airline maintenance facilities typically hire contractors? Many reasons exist, but here are ten of the most common:
• Filling in for a short-term project need
• Managing a work load that is unpredictable
• Preventing bad hires by starting out with a short-term contract to see how the employee performs
• Creating a workforce that is mobile if, for instance, a company is operating a satellite location
• Filling a temporary gap while searching for a permanent hire to fill the position
• Importing skilled workers where there is a lack of talented labor
• Fulfilling the demands of a business model that is completely outsourced – that is, where the entire workforce consists of contractors
• Filling in for employees who are absent
• Supporting cash flow – companies can usually pay the cost of contract maintenance employee later than they pay employee wages
• Meeting the requirements of a small-business partnership, where a small business can partner with a larger business for the benefit of both (to win, for example, a government contract)
Recruiting is Challenging
Although companies that provide contract maintenance workers are enjoying some growth due to increased requests from aviation companies, it is still challenging to find qualified mechanics who are willing to sign up for short-term work. The main issue is finding mechanics who have the appropriate level of experience because training opportunities have been limited over the last decade.
One main source of well-qualified mechanics is also drying up – the military. More and more maintenance of military aircraft is now outsourced to private repair stations, so the military is not training mechanics as they have in years past.
Many of the major maintenance, repair and overhaul companies have also cut back on their in-house maintenance training, which also makes the pool of available and trained airline mechanics that much shallower. Some of these companies are actually hiring less short-term mechanics as well.
Since 9/11 occurred, background checks of contractors have become more important than ever – perhaps the primary concern. Because the workers will be venturing onto airport property, they will automatically have more access to sensitive equipment and information. This access requires thorough screening before hiring.
Some companies want to perform their own background checks on top of any background checks already run by the contract worker provider. This adds a few weeks to the hiring time, meaning that companies who require rapid hiring have to adjust their expectations.
Another type of background check is also gaining increased importance: a background check to assure quality workmanship. This is particularly important in the airline industry, where even small mistakes can result is the deaths of many people. A plane crash in the early 2000s in North Carolina that killed 21 people was found to have been caused by a faulty repair performed by a contract employee hired by a repair facility. In the wake of this accident, the National Transportation and Safety Board brought up the issue of whether the Federal Aviation Administration should more carefully monitor outsourced maintenance engineering work.
Changes in regulations to the industry in Europe have made the whole concept of contract workers more challenging. Contractors used to be able to work as many hours as necessary in a week to get the job done. Indeed, that was the whole point of hiring them – certain tasks needed to be finished by a deadline no matter how many hours they had to work.
Now, the European Union says contractors cannot work more than 45 hours a week. This limitation severely limits the benefits of hiring contract mechanics to work on aircraft. The regulation also limits the amount of revenue the contractors can earn for the job.
Criteria for High-Quality Contractors
So, assuming companies have the resources to hire mechanical contractors in the field of aircraft engineering, what qualities do they look for? What qualities should you be striving to develop if you want to be hired as a contractor?
Conventional screening criteria such as age, experience, qualifications (licenses), where the applicant has worked, etc., have been found to be lacking in effectiveness as companies try to identify contractors of high quality.
Instead, more non-conventional selection criteria, such as values, motivation and more, are much more effective in choosing the best mechanical contractors as aircraft engineers.
Companies also place a large emphasis on the face-to-face interviews they conduct with maintenance contractors who are looking for short term work. They also conduct thorough background checks.
Maintenance managers are looking at several factors as they assess their need for maintenance engineering:
• Most maintenance managers believe contracted maintenance personnel are a valuable link in their supply chain. A majority believe contractors provide high value as well.
• The most important factor in selecting contract maintenance providers is not hourly rate – their knowledge of aviation experience and customer service is much more important.
• These five characteristics of contractors are of the highest importance: dependability, technical competence, attention to detail, punctuality and personal values/attitudes.
Contract workers who do not meet these five characteristics create a gap between what is expected and what is produced. If this gap is too wide, the workers will have to find new or different jobs.
Notice especially that of the five important values listed above, only one relates to knowledge and technical ability. The others are all based on attitudes and actions that you can control. This means that in your next interview, it’s a good idea to bring up certain situations from your current or previous job and tell how you handled those situations based on the values you have already outlined.
A majority of maintenance contractors agree with these values, especially those who are specialists with experience in areas such as avionics, engines, plane structure, etc.
What Companies Should Do
While much of the burden is on contractors to prove they are worthy of hiring, the aerospace companies looking to hire them should take a few steps as well. Thorough interviews and assessments of candidates are necessary to manage contract workers in the best manner. They cannot think of contractors as brief workers who just enter and leave quickly through a revolving door – if they treat them as actual employees, their relationship will work out much better. If they do not manage contractors well, they will quickly earn a bad reputation for how they deal with workers and it will be difficult for them to hire in the future.
No one benefits from a bad marriage between contractors and companies – the contractor might leave early, the company might fire them early, and no one is happy. It is in the best interest of both parties for both to work at the relationship.
Contractors, be aware that temp agencies that hire you are checking you out, but also ask them if they have vetted the aerospace company out. Have they interviewed the company about how they deal with contractors, have they seen their facilities, have they talked to their leadership? These kinds of assessments and evaluations mean that the maintenance contractors have a much better chance of working out than if no due diligence had been done.
Contract maintenance engineers are a unique group of people. Most people in the workforce are looking for a good, steady job with a regular commute. They like the stability of knowing they have a secure job and knowing their routine will be the same for the foreseeable future.
Contract workers, on the other hand, have a different existence. Their future is not as set in stone, and many of them like it that way. Some choose the contract maintenance worker route for the following reasons:
1. This is just how they like to operate. They enjoy travel, they like to move around and they don’t want to stay too long in any one spot.
2. They have left one job and before they land another permanent job, they want some independence while also gaining experience. They may also be hoping their contract work turns into a permanent position.
3. Some contract worker are mostly financially independent. They don’t work because they don’t have to, or at least they don’t require full-time employment. They can pick and choose the jobs they want based on geographic location, the opportunity to work on specific models of airplanes, or even just for the adventure of it.
4. “Try before you buy” – this one actually works for both workers and the company. They each get to see if the job will be a good fit before they commit to a long term relationship.
If you are looking for a way to earn an aeronautical engineer salary without committing to a long-term deal, a contract position as a short-term maintenance engineer may be the path to follow for you.
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