by Ethan Paquet
The Atlantic Canada Aerospace & Defence Association (ACADA) recently hosted Sea to Sky 2023 in Summerside, where the theme was Above and Beyond: Celebrating Our Past, Building Our Future.
A panel entitled Looking Ahead: Our Future Leaders featured four young people from diverse backgrounds who discussed their career paths, priorities, and tips for employers looking to attract and retain young talent.
“We must learn what is going on in the minds of young folks to understand how to retain them and to make aerospace a top career choice,” says Victoria Belbin, CEO, ACADA, who moderated the panel.
“We hope to ensure that companies have what it takes to build a pathway for young people to enter the industry, and to build their skillset along the way so they’ll stick around. We don’t want to lose those skills to other industries, because the competition for talent is tough.”
The youth panel
Duy Nguyen is a graduate student of science in robotics and automation at UPEI, where he is currently working on a system that uses robots to solve complex tasks.
His interest in the field began as a child in Vietnam, where he dreamed about building robots to complete his chores, he says. “What started as a lazy childhood inspired me to pursue robotics. I watched movies about robots, and I learned about careers on the Internet. I also learned that to be an engineer, you can’t be lazy, so it challenged me along the way.”
With his career goal in mind, he carefully selected high school programs that helped him enter the right post-secondary program. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Automation and Controlled Engineering. When it came time to begin his Master’s degree, he learned about a scholarship from The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, which provides funding for university professors, students, and Canadian companies that work to make scientific breakthroughs that benefit the country.
“The scholarship was the first reason I chose UPEI. The second was that in my research, I learned that UPEI has a large space to do robotics experiments, so I knew I could gain more experience in developing autonomous motors and vehicles there.”
As a student, he has had the chance to travel across the country, but he considers PEI to be his career destination, he says. “PEI is a very unique, peaceful, tranquil place. Many of my friends think it is slow, but for me, that is a big advantage, because I prioritize focusing on my career, so it has kept me away from distractions and allowed me to spend time on the things I find most important.”
More importantly, PEI has become his second home, he says. “When I walk down the street, I always get a friendly smile from complete strangers. On the bus, everybody thanks the bus driver. In bigger cities, you don’t see much of that, so I love the friendliness and I feel welcome here. I have received so much support and generosity, so I want to repay that by staying and working on PEI.”
Duy thinks the key to career education is in bridging the connection between school and careers. “I think if we inform high school students about how the subjects they are learning translate into their career options, it would be helpful in showing them what they can do.”
When it comes to attracting young talent, he says employers should make themselves approachable. “I like job fairs, where you can go and talk to employers and employees, and learn more about the company. I also like company tours. I think that is a good way to attract young people so they can get to learn more about the company, their values, and the working environments.”
He says the way to retain employees is to give them a chance to grow and develop within the company. “For the industry I am in, continuous learning is important, because technology is changing so fast. If you don’t have the chance to learn, you will easily be left behind.
“If there is a good working environment, people can come together to overcome challenges and feel like part of something greater.”
Louise Regaldo is a Bench Operator at Standard Aero, the same company that opened her eyes to the many careers in aerospace when she visited them during Take Our Kids to Work Day in grade nine.
“When I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to work in a hands-on career environment,” she says. “During my tour of StandardAero, I saw that their work is very hands-on, and I realized it might be something I would like to do.”
Eager to learn more about the industry, she enrolled in an aerospace class at Three Oaks Senior High School the following year, where an engaging teacher inspired her to seriously consider it as a career option.
“Mr. Donnie Gallant shared stories about his own career journey, and I was excited to learn about the different possibilities and to see where I might fit in.”
In her senior year, she tested out working at Standard Aero as part of her co-op class. “I tried out lots of different jobs and was able to figure out which ones I liked doing. That co-op placement led to a summer job with the company. I kept working there while I attended Holland College, and I had a full-time job waiting for me when I graduated.”
When it comes to career education, Louise says junior high is the best time to inform students of their options. “As a grade nine student visiting the workplace, I was able to see the possibilities and realize what career I wanted to do, so we definitely need to give kids that kind of information by the time they’re in middle school.”
Aerospace companies looking to attract younger talent need to open the doors to their worksites to allow students to find their fit, she says. “If a student is thinking about working somewhere, that company needs to let them visit so they can learn as much as they can. Show them what possibilities there are at your company. They want to know what the work is going to look like.”
To retain younger workers, she says companies should offer flexibility and healthy boundaries. “As someone who came into the workforce straight out of school, having time to myself has been a very important priority. I need to be able to separate work from life.
“What’s great about Standard Aero is that it has a lot of locations, and I’d like to travel, so I like that I have the chance to move somewhere else and try new things.
“Another priority I look for is a company that gives me the chance to learn new things, because I’m still young and there are a whole lot for me to learn.”
Izaak Dalton is a Repair and Overhaul Technician at Action Aero. Growing up in Slemon Park, he says he was surrounded by aerospace and developed an interest in the industry at an early age. “Nobody in my family worked in aerospace, but I was always aware of the size of the industry on PEI, and it was always at the back of my mind.”
When he started Three Oaks Senior High School, he decided to take their aerospace class on a whim. “My teacher, Mr. Donnie Gallant, became my number one influence. He shared his experiences of his own career, and that sparked my interest.”
He stuck with the class for two years, and competed in a Skills Canada PEI competition, winning gold. “I knew I had found my calling, and I had to pursue it. I went right into Holland College’s Aircraft Turbine Technician program after high school. That helped me gain on-the-job training, which helped me land the job I have now.”
He says the best path to approaching students with career information is through educators, starting in middle school. “If we can get teachers talking about career stuff, the students will listen to them. Doing this before they get to high school will help them to better decide which classes to take, and that will lead them to decisions about college and careers.”
To attract younger talent, employers need to show the opportunities that lie ahead, he says. “Nobody wants to do the same thing forever. If somebody is trying to decide between different jobs and one is advertising career development opportunities, that might be a deciding factor.”
Retaining employees comes down to employee satisfaction, he says. “I don’t think anybody could be happy working a career long-term if they don’t appreciate what they are doing. It’s important to be able to explore different paths and to continue to learn.
“Employers should also see that any sort of education they are willing to offer is going to benefit the employee as much as it will benefit the company, so any type of training they provide is a win-win situation.
“Another priority is financial security. I never really cared that much about it before, but in the last few years with the rising costs of living, it has become very important.”
Darren Machado is a Marketing Coordinator with AKA Energy Systems. His passion for marketing started while doing several internships in marketing roles in India and New Zealand, he says. “I had a lot of fun with the creative and planning aspects of those internships, and I liked working with people, so that experience definitely influenced me the most.”
After graduating high school, he moved to PEI in 2018, where he studied at UPEI to earn his Bachelor of Business Administration degree. “I knew I wanted to be in a marketing and sales role for a long time, so UPEI was the right progression for where I was going, and I really enjoyed that experience.”
He used his education and skills to become an entrepreneur after graduation, launching some small businesses in Charlottetown. But when he heard his friends talking about how much they loved their jobs at AKA Energy Systems, he researched the company to learn more.
“I saw they were hiring a Marketing Coordinator and I decided to apply,” he says. “I’ve worked here for seven months and I am very happy in this role. My personality goes well with my manager and coworkers.”
Darren thinks career information is an important topic that should be introduced in elementary school. “You never know at what moment someone will learn about a career and realize that it is what they want to do with their life. I think introducing career information as an elementary school subject can help students figure it out as they go along.”
To attract younger talent, companies need to connect with students before they graduate college and university, he says. “When I was at UPEI, we had companies come in to talk to the students. There were also career days for some of the other programs. I think increasing that to cover all industries would help employers find young people and connect with them face-to-face.”
The key to retaining employees is having a healthy work environment, he says. “On PEI, word of mouth is very big, and they say employees are the biggest recruiters, so the important thing is having a positive work environment.
“Another big thing is growth and development possibilities. When I’ve invested in my education and am out of school, I want an employer who is going to invest in me and help me get on the path to advance my career, which will help the company and myself.”