In my time as Chair of the ISTAT internship committee, I saw first-hand the positive impact that internships can have on the interns, their employers, and the aviation leasing industry as a whole. Since 2015, I worked, and still do, with the committees for both the Internship programme, and for ISTAT-U, and as I have now stepped down from both Chair roles, I wanted to reflect on why internships are so important, make you aware of what the ISTAT Foundation are doing to promote them, and encourage you to get involved.
Internships in Aircraft Leasing
ISTAT is the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading. It’s been in existence for 35 years, and the membership of the organization now includes a range of industry professionals, leasing companies, banks, manufacturers of aircraft, and so on.
ISTAT set up the Foundation when the organisation began to grow and do well and they felt giving back to the industry was necessary. It started with scholarships, and then internships, though not as much attention was given to Internships as the original membership were primarily small businesses trading aircraft. As the organisation grew the make-up of the membership also changed and more attention was then given to finding summer placements for students. With the introduction of ISTAT-U more emphasis was put on trying to help the students find placements to enhance their training.
The internship program supports interns with their travel and accommodation, to allow a broader range of people to participate in internship programmes across the industry in different geographical locations.
The committee and I spent much of our time encouraging members to create roles for interns in their organisations, if they didn’t already have a programme, and then to promote those opportunities through our portal. Over the past 6 years we’ve managed to get almost 7 times as many members to post roles on the portal, which we’re really thrilled about. Even throughout the pandemic years, we’ve seen 15 or 20 roles available, and both the members and the interns have really benefited from those opportunities.
How do internships benefit aircraft leasing companies?
Recently (during Covid), the best results we’ve seen have been in companies that do a lot of remote work. One organization, for example, took on an intern in Belfast even though their own HQ is in Seattle, and it worked wonderfully. They logged on each day, had a chat, make sure the intern knew what their focus was, and off they’d go and do it. For them, it worked a treat, and they were very positive about it. I think that intern is still employed by the company now – even though the internship ended.
In another example, one company took on an intern in 2020, and at the end of it, he got a permanent job, because his work had been so valuable, even during COVID! Companies that have been brave enough to take a chance have really seen the benefit.
And that is ultimately, the end goal – that these bright passionate individuals get some good exposure, they do some great work, the company offers them a role. It’s not always immediate, of course – some students take summer internships before they graduate for example. I had a young mentee who had done an internship at Frontier Airlines, and when she graduated, they offered her a job straight after university. She was doing a Masters in Aviation Finance, so it was very relevant. But if she hadn’t done that internship, then they wouldn’t have got to know her and liked her.
I suppose that’s ultimately the beauty of an internship program. Where we are in executive search is 10 or 15 years later in the career lifecycle. But I’m passionate about making sure that there’s good talent coming into the industry.
Finding and managing interns in aviation
One of the biggest projects I worked on early in my tenure as chair was to make a significant update to our internship portal. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for companies like yours to take the leap and give it a go, whether you’re a smaller company without an HR system, or a bigger company who just wanted to get as many great candidates as possible.
The new portal we have now allows a whole range of levels of engagement. At the most involved level, you can create a role on the portal and use it not only to promote the role, but also to manage the applications and the hiring process. Once the role is filled the system can be updated and it is no longer public.
At the other end of the scale, we also allow member organizations just to post a link to an application on their own website, rather than making full use of the system. If a bigger company, like United or Boeing, for example, post internship positions on their own site, they can advertise them through our portal as well. So, students might not necessarily know that United is looking, but they can see it on ours. The roles a big company posts on our site will also tend to be specific to the ISTAT community, so it might be aircraft financing or similar, even though that’s not the main activity of the company posting the job.
And this ties in well to the other key activity that we on the committee make time for, which is to promote the portal to students. We encourage universities to encourage their students and as well as ISTAT-U students, we have maybe 150 plus universities around the world on our database, which makes for a fantastic pool of potential candidates. We have members who are ambassadors, generally alumni of those universities, and we get them to go and chat to them to advocate for the programme. So as part of the internship portal, we advertise to students when it’s open for applications.
We’re slowly growing our reputation and becoming the community for people in the industry to join.
Aviation internships in Asia and Africa, and other future plans
One thing we’ve worked hard on over the last few years is to expand the geography of the Internship programme. Most of our internships are either in Europe or in the USA, with a couple in Hong Kong or China, because that’s where majority of our members are, but we’d really like to expand.
In Asia, at the moment our membership is growing and we’re trying to find internship opportunities there. Logistically it’s hard to offer truly global internships, due to visa situations, but virtual internships can be carried out anywhere. Our committee are a really dedicated group of volunteers, but I suppose one of the things I wish we had been able to do better was find active, engaged committee members in Asia who could lead the work in that area. We tried but the time zone issues made it hard.
In contrast to that, we have now got a subcommittee that looks after Africa. There’s a whole load of students graduating from aviation focused courses in African universities, who find it challenging to get internships let alone jobs. We won’t know for a year or two how successful it might be, but we have been doing things a little differently. Rather than working exclusively with ISTAT members, because we don’t have many in Africa or the Middle East, the focus has been on finding all kinds of aviation-related organisations that will take interns. The subcommittee has a broader mandate to build connections with those organisations rather than just members.
In Europe it’s a little easier because students aren’t limited to work in their own country, because of the shared labour market. In contrast, for example, if you’re Kenyan, and you study aircraft engineering and then you have to hope Kenyan Airways wants to give you an internship. If not, then there are visa issues and so on which make it harder to move around.
In Asia, it’s the same, as students are not able to work freely from one country to the next. They have to find opportunities based on their own citizenship.
But we do have a few connections – a few companies who take interns in Asia, and then also some big global companies will take on three, say one in the US, one in Europe and one in Asia. I’m looking forward to seeing what our next chair, Joey Johnsen, will achieve in her tenure.