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Reinvention: Engaging young professionals through career guidance

Air Traffic Control Association – Save the Associations Vol. 4

Since the association’s founding in 1956, the Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) has had to reinvent itself on numerous occasions as culture, technology, and industry have progressed.  ATCA President and CEO Peter Dumont described that this kind of evolution is vital to the success of any association; “To survive, we don’t need to just think about now, but five years from now,” he stated.

ATCA made its first major shift as federal unions gained popularity. The association’s original mission to provide a bridge between frontline users and management became less necessary, so they instituted a new strategy to focus on the progress of science and safety. As air traffic management (ATM) technology modernizes and relationships between industry, governments, and air navigation service providers become more complex and global than ever, ATCA has embraced its new role as a community and forum where ATM stakeholders can collaborate and devise solutions to the complex challenges the airspace faces today.

One of the major challenges for ATCA’s US members is the dwindling controller workforce. Dumont shared that nearly one-third of current FAA air traffic controllers are eligible for retirement, which is why ATCA has focused energy on helping attract and retain young talent in the aviation field.

Engaging the Younger Generations

In the US air traffic controllers have to be hired by age 31. Due to this truncated timeline and the fact that air traffic control hiring is extremely selective, ATCA’s Young Aviation Professional (YAP) program was strategically designed to go beyond the stereotypical young professional happy hour, and instead, act as a career guide, especially to those young professionals who do not become air traffic controllers.

While a lot of the information about the various professions ATCA represents is available online, most young professionals don’t know where to start. They don’t understand the breadth of the opportunities available to them, so ATCA helps guide them through their early careers with events and mediums tailored to engage them.

  1. Domestic and international conferences – These events are also open to non-YAPs so they have the chance to meet members and see ATCA in action.

  2. YAPPY Hours – These happy hours are an opportunity for YAPs to connect with high-level executives in a relaxed environment.

  3. Field Trips – ATCA hosts field trips to companies and facilities so YAPs can see the work being done throughout the system. The trips serve a dual purpose. The YAPs learn how each company or facility contributes to the national airspace system (NAS) and can also see what a career would look like at those companies.

  4. Lunch and Learns – In an effort to be mindful of busy schedules, ATCA hosts lunch and learn lecture events for YAPs, because even the busiest professionals need lunch.

  5. Panels – ATCA makes it a point to include YAPs on panels alongside their more senior counterparts. This allows YAPs to take ownership and contribute their unique viewpoints and expertise to conversations that steer the future of the NAS.

  6. Tower Talks – At its largest domestic event, ATCA Annual, the association created Tower Talks, which resemble TED talks, for YAPs to share their experiences with one another and the larger aviation industry.

  7. Scholarship Fund – The 2008 recession caused the younger generations to be highly conscious of financial security; a scholarship can be a big motivator for students. ATCA has given over $1 million in scholarships to students studying aviation disciplines.

Advice for Other Associations

When asked what other associations should do to effectively engage the younger generations, Dumont said to start listening. “If we want young professionals to be involved, we need young professionals to help.”


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