by Amy Treutel
The Air Traffic Management degree at Embry-Riddle is a very specific one. Most students go through the program with the intent to become an Air Traffic Controller after graduation. They know the courses they have to take at Embry-Riddle, and they know what steps they must go through after graduation to apply with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and be on their way to pursuing their dreams. What seems like a clear cut process can become slightly more complicated as things like budget cuts and increased wait times creep into the picture, however.
This is when it’s important to call upon your back-up plan! Most students realize that they do have to do something between when they graduate and when they get hired by the FAA as an Air Traffic Control Specialist trainee. As the hiring panel is only every six months (November and March), there will be a wait time between graduation and when the ball gets going for Air Traffic Control. In fact, the average wait time for a graduate of the air traffic management degree program to be hired by the FAA is just over a year, but for others that time can stretch into two, sometimes three years. Almost 80 percent of graduates jump right into the workforce after graduation, whether they are working as a Remote Pilot Operator at Raytheon or in customer service at Staples. What many students don’t take advantage of, however, is this two to three year gap where they can get started on a career or pursue an advanced degree.
There are so many opportunities for graduates with backgrounds in Air Traffic Control. It’s not advice you want to hear, but it is solid advice nonetheless: pursue other adventures! Many air traffic graduates are in the industry right now, waiting to be hired by the FAA but at the same time working in a job they love and are passionately pursuing. It doesn’t mean you’ve given up on your career goals, and it doesn’t mean your degree is worthless. It means you were proactive and responsible enough to realize that you may have to take a different path to become an Air Traffic Controller than others, but in the end, you’ll be sitting in the same tower cab or radar room as the guy or girl who chose not to get that extra experience.
For example, take Alyssa Smith, a recent air traffic graduate. She is currently working for The Boeing Company as a Quality System Specialist. After completing an internship with Boeing, she was offered a full-time position. While waiting to be hired, she is gaining great full-time work experience as well as growing her network by working in the industry. Travis Gonzalez is another great example of a graduate of the Air Traffic Management degree program. Currently, Travis is working at The Mitre Corporation, and while he initially had plans to become an Air Traffic Controller, he found another passion and pursued it. Travis is still involved in air traffic but is working more with research and analysis. Still want another example? Bryan Dietz graduated with an Air Traffic Management degree and has also pursued a career outside of being a controller.
With the FAA’s recent announcement that just a very small hiring panel will be held this November, many air traffic graduates are left thinking, now what? Now is the perfect time to call upon your back-up plan. Get started early and don’t wait to be hired by the FAA. Go through your career checklist. See what other graduates have done and learn about companies hiring Air Traffic Management graduates. Check out the Career Services website to see the many resources that are available to make a job search easier for you. Choose a couple of minors that could translate into skills for alternate types of jobs. Then get out there and make industry contacts while working full-time. It’s important to get your foot in the door, and who knows, maybe you’ll find a new passion and calling doing something other than pushing tin.
Amy Treutel graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Air Traffic Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics with a specialization in Management. She currently works as the Office Associate and has been part of the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Career Services team for five years.