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What do you want to be when you grow up? “A Co-Pilot.”

Posted: December 4, 2018 — “A co-pilot?” I responded with surprise to the 8th-grader.  No disrespect to co-pilots; but who starts out wanting to be a co-pilot?  It struck me as odd and a bit funny.  I asked why and I learned a lot.  To paraphrase what he told me: many commercial flight crews have three people.  We know what the navigator does.  A better description of the co-pilot might be “flight engineer.”  It is his/her responsibility to know about systems on board:  to understand how the engines work, how electricity is generated and used, how the hydraulic systems work, etc.  It is the co-pilot’s role to know what to do if something goes wrong.  The pilot is responsible for the regulations, rules, paperwork, flight crew in the passenger cabin, passenger problems, and the overall safety of the flight.

The co-pilot is not a “junior pilot” waiting to “move up” and become a pilot someday.  He/she has a specific role that is, itself, an excellent career.

I see the same misunderstanding with the roles of technician and engineer.  Many people assume a technician is a “junior engineer.”  Why would someone pursue a two-year technician degree instead of a 4-year engineering degree?

FM’s Electrical Technology program (and associated certificate and degree programs) is in a fortunate position to have local employers interested in making relationships with our program and students.  While visiting more than a dozen employers locally in manufacturing and other services I hear the same story.  Chris Darling, Beech-Nut’s Director of Engineering says “We have widened our recruiting area to include people from outside of our region.  We offer competitive wages and benefits that draw employees to our area but still struggle to find qualified mid-level skilled technical workers.  This is a large-scale challenge that will most likely get worse before we solve it.”  Mid-level skilled workers are defined as people who have education beyond high school but less than a four-year B.S. or B.A. degree.

When a young person tells me that they would like to be an engineer because they like figuring out how things work or they like working on things with their hands, they are really telling me they would like to be a technician.

I don’t want to deter anyone from pursuing an engineering degree.  But, as Jennifer Pickering, Director of Leadership Development & Technical Vitality at GLOBALFOUNDRIES says:  “Being an engineer is great.  However, if you start working as a Technician, you will become a much better Engineer…and your employer will likely help pay for extra schooling too while you are earning a full time paycheck.”  FM has articulation agreements with other schools so students can earn a B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology.

So, what do you want to be when you grow up?  Just as I was uninformed about the career that a co-pilot is, I see many people uninformed about the careers a two-year technical degree can unlock.  Now is a great time for this.  You will be in a good position to get some work experience and choose where you want to go.

Contact the Office of Admissions at any time to schedule a time for a campus tour, and see firsthand what we have to offer in this field.

This article was written by Jeremy Spraggs, Assistant Professor, Technology at FM.

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