Helping take my school’s teams to the Aerospace Maintenance Competition got me to thinking about what you look for in a good airplane mechanic. I think it boils down to three things: the ability to listen and respond to feedback, the willingness to work hard, and a rock-solid sense of integrity. Take away one of these things and the stool falls over.
If any mechanics are reading this, they’re probably thinking, “But, but … what if they can’t turn a wrench?” I think that if they can, that’s a value add, but to some extent it’s a skill that can be taught. The three critical factors, not so much.
Here’s why I think they’re so important. I recently had the joy of giving someone feedback, which, many though, was well deserved, if not pleasant. It didn’t go well. The person shot right past the point of the feedback in their haste to discuss their emotional response to the feedback.
Meanwhile, the problem that the feedback was meant to correct remained unsolved and I remained unmoved about the person’s feelings, surmising that if they wanted to avoid criticism they could have just done the thing they were supposed to do. (Pro tip: a guaranteed way to avoid being told you have fallen short of your obligations and had better step up is to actually do the work to meet your obligations, therefore obviating the need for the unpleasant feedback. But I digress.)
Sometimes all of us need to be told that we need to do something differently. Sometimes it’s not pleasant, but still necessary. The ability to listen and respond to constructive criticism is absolutely necessary unless you’re the only person in the history of the world ever to be born knowing everything.
As for the second quality, I think it speaks for itself. Some people really like to work, so for them, it’s easy to work hard. Others might prefer to be home lounging, but will call on their work ethic to carry them through. Motivation doesn’t matter – just do the work.
I think integrity is important in all aspects of life but for airplane mechanics it’s a must-have. If your software engineer is a compulsive liar the worst you’ll have is a computer crash. If your investment advisor is a sleazeball, you might wind up broke, but you’ll still be alive. If your airplane mechanic says they serviced the tires and didn’t, or signed off on control surface rigging when they never inspected it (two real-life occurrences which resulted in a lot of deaths) people can and do die.
In my internship I have noticed that not everyone is good at everything, nor are they expected to be. Some people are sheet-metal geniuses, some are smart with avionics, some are good with hydraulics. People seem to know their strengths, and are not afraid to ask for help when they need it. But the ones I have met all seem to have the big three factors. All the rest can be taught.