Behind each aircraft is a team of technicians and engineers performing tasks of inspection, maintenance, overhaul and repair to ensure its airworthiness.
At first glance, aviation maintenance may not seem like an exciting career choice. But Stacey Rudser, a full-time maintenance technician and director at the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance, (AWAM), believes that the reality of a maintenance career will surprise many people.
She says: “It’s 2021 [and we’re] not seeing [many] people pursue a maintenance career path, whether it’s aviation or otherwise. Many options out there that are maybe easier work or air-conditioned. If you go into IT, you’re probably not out in the heat, you’re probably not out in the snow and you may not be working at night.
“Aviation maintenance is not the most appealing career path, if you put it on paper, but it can be one of the most fulfilling.”
An integral part of Stacey’s work involves engaging younger generations and women to pursue aviation maintenance as a career. Through AWAM and her involvement on several advisory bodies, including the FAA Women in Aviation Advisory Board, Stacey uses her platform to address the various obstacles faced by women in the industry and to help expose those interested in a career in aviation, particularly women and younger people, to the many sectors within the aviation.
She says: “In maintenance, the challenges that women face are a little more specific because we are such an underrepresented group. Less than 3% of aviation maintenance technicians are women, so, when you walk in, there is a lot of proving yourself that you have to do. But men don’t necessarily go through [these challenges].
“There are systemic barriers of gender-based microaggressions and more important things, [such as] harassment and district discrimination. These are all very real and [are] still going on.”
For Stacey, who does not come from an aviation background, it took some time for her to realize that maintenance was a passion that she would continue to pursue.
After joining an Air Force Junior ROTC program that was designed to introduce people to career prospects in the United States military, she met an instructor who also happened to be a maintenance officer in the United States Air Force.
She explains: “As an instructor, he always kind of pushed that maintenance side. Maintenance wasn’t something that I immediately pursued after high school graduation, but it was kind of always in the back of my mind. So, when the time came to choose a career path, I said, ‘what do I really want to do?’
“I knew some things I didn’t want to do, but the more I researched aviation maintenance, the more I realized that was going to be a really good fit for my personality [and my] passion.”
As Stacey began to network and attend international conferences, which broadened her view of the industry, her career began to progress. She won an AWAM scholarship for UPS Airlines 767 maintenance training. As part of the scholarship, she was also invited to the Women in Aviation International (WAI), where she met the leadership and volunteers of AWAM, a non-profit organization dedicated to the encouragement and advancement of women in all aviation career fields and interests. Soon, she decided to become more involved with the organization.
In the early stages, her work with AWAM focused on outreach programs aimed at engaging younger generations.
She says: “I think outreach was so important to me because you only see aircraft mechanics, on a bad day, right? You don’t want to see us come on your plane. By nature, we are supposed to be invisible.
“So, with outreach, I wanted to bring that visibility. Little kids say that they want to be pilots. They see them, they interact with them. It’s a cool job. But I wanted little kids to get that chance to learn about how aircraft work and learn that the career even exists. When you talk to kids [at] elementary age, they have those experiences that stay with them [and] they may not choose the career path. But at the very least, they understand that it’s an interesting option that they can pursue for their future.”
As Stacey’s involvement with the association advanced, she became even more determined to help women thrive in the maintenance sector. She was also elected to the AWAM Board of Directors, which provided a platform and opportunity to make an impact on international level.
She says: “As I grew within the organization, I started to realize that there was a lot more work to be done than I [had previously] thought. I started to become more aware. I had more conversations with more people.
“I was able to take on some more responsibility and focus [on something] that really started as a kind of networking group [looking at] how women in aviation maintenance can connect with one another and how [we] can [best] build that support network.”
The organisation, which has been active for 25 years, provides resources to assist women in aviation and to encourage young women to consider a career in the sector. Stacey’s work also involves networking with other organizations and requires some political lobbying.
AWAM provide an array of scholarships ranging from tuition and testing assistance to aircraft type training classes and tooling. However, these opportunities are not only available to women.
She adds: “Over half of our scholarships are open to men, too. While we do want to support and promote women, this is a need across the board.”
Currently, the industry is experiencing a shortage of qualified technicians. Stacey explains that many aviation companies are struggling with retaining talent and refilling the positions left behind when older workers retire.
She continues: “[By] providing people these opportunities, [it] helps build a pipeline [to] retain people in the industry and it helps give someone maybe that little bit of extra that they need to just keep going.”
Nevertheless, Stacey hopes to see a natural, increased female presence in the industry, which exceeds the current 3%. She also calls on women and young aviators to be bold when pursuing a career in aviation, particularly in the maintenance sector.
She adds: “Be courageous, be ferocious. You’re going to fail. That is a given. There are going to be times when you fail but have the tenacity to be able to redirect and fail but don’t falter. Just keep going and you’ll never believe the doors that will open up for you.”