Mechanical aptitude is the “It Factor” that can boost a career in Aviation Maintenance
After more than 20 years in the aviation maintenance industry, Mason Houk knows the key ingredient that gives new hires a distinctive edge: Hands-on experience.
“You’re either good with mechanical devices or you’re not,” he says of new A&P (Airframe and Power Plant) Aviation Maintenance Technology recruits at SkyWest Airlines in Fresno, where he is in charge of new hires. “Even if you grew up working on cars, lawnmowers or tractors, it transfers over. If you were always putting computers together, that translates into viable hands-on experience – especially in avionics; it’s all computers.”
That hand-eye coordination is deep-seated muscle memory, a comfort and familiarity that make shorter work of any mechanical learning curve. But it doesn’t have to be a show-stopper.
“We’ve seen some really smart, straight A types who come in that never had to work with their hands,” says Mason. “It’s not that they can’t do it, but we’ve seen some of them really struggle in the beginning.”
When he is evaluating a new aircraft mechanic, the true test happens soon enough. “We just have to get them out there on the floor and watch them start turning wrenches.”
Mason never thought growing up on a working farm would one day benefit his future career choice. Most of his mechanical aptitude came from repairing motorcycles and 4-wheelers that transferred to tractors, planters and other forever breaking-down farm equipment. “We were pretty self-sufficient,” says Mason. “If you could do it, you were going to do it.” Fortunately, for Mason, he liked it.
After high school, he went to college for a year but didn’t feel connected to the sedentary life of classroom studies. It was his dad Randall who triggered his interest in a career that would allow him to do what he loved…. with a bonus.
“Dad is the one who said I should look into aviation,” says Mason. “He said I could at least travel the world while I did what I liked doing.”
Mason checked out SJVC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program located at the campus on the Fresno-Yosemite International airport. It was a good fit for him. He enrolled the same day he toured the campus.
“The people that come into this industry learn by touching and doing; they don’t learn by sitting, watching and reading,” he says. “It’s just a different learning style.” Although there is significant class time, Mason lived for those hours in the hangar. “You watch, read and learn to get to the part you love, which is putting into practice out in the hangar what was learned in the classroom.”
Mason had a job offer before he even graduated. Right after graduation, he took the exam for his A&P certification, which is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. Earning it allows him to work on anything that flies. His first position was with West Air and then SkyWest Airlines.
He is still with SkyWest, and after many promotions, it is now his responsibility to recruit and train well-prepared A&P mechanics. A long-term resource for Mason and SkyWest has been San Joaquin Valley College’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program in Fresno. They work hand-in-hand to match qualified students to growth positions in the airline’s maintenance department.
Sue Montgomery, SJVC’s Director of Institutional Partnerships, works closely with Mason to place qualified Aviation Maintenance Technology students who are in their final six to eight months of the Fresno program, and who are interested and qualified, into SkyWest’s Apprenticeship program. “Mason coordinates the apprentice program and gets them introduced to what it is like to work for the world’s largest regional airline,” says Sue. Most of those students are invited to interview for SkyWest positions after graduation.
“SkyWest can become part of their dream career,” says Mason. “We are giving them a pathway to come to that front door.”
As a nationwide airline, SkyWest affords its aircraft mechanics a steady flow of opportunity. “Our airline is still growing, always adding airplanes,” says Mason. “We currently have about 475 aircraft. It’s a lot of maintenance that gets generated every single day.”
Mason is happy to tell those incoming student apprentices and all new-hires how well the job promotion system works at SkyWest. “I would have never thought in a million years that having an A&P would lead me to the kind of job function I have right now,” says Mason. “It’s just so far removed from where I started, just working on airplanes. Now I think about how I can make it easier for that person to go out and better repair that aircraft.”
It’s a good life.
Then there are the travel and other benefits Mason’s dad predicted all those years ago. His four 10-hour work days each week make the steady three-day weekend a plus, allowing him and his family to make the most of SKyWest’s travel perks. Mason’s wife Stacey and their three girls Hannah, Ella and Ava enjoy the many family-friendly benefits.
But Mason will probably never tell his dad how right he was. That’s just not the way it works between father and son. They will have to be content with just that deep sense of knowing.
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