By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on February 13, 2024.
The Lethbridge Airport and Careers: The Next Generation, announced on Monday an exciting partnership that will bring the first YQL Aviation Day to the city. Born out of a father’s love for his daughters, the event, which will take place on May 25, will highlight careers in aviation with a special emphasis on women in aviation.
Abby Slovack, general manager of Opportunity Lethbridge with the city, said the event will feature a career fair, static aircraft displays, guest speakers, and food trucks. She explained the aviation industry has seen recruitment challenges in recent years and hopes the event will entice young people to explore a career in aviation.
“We’ve seen the pilot shortages but there’s also shortages in air traffic control, maintenance, operations, generally across the entire industry,” Slovack said.
Beyond just staffing shortages, however, there exists another issue within the aviation industry that organizers hope the event will help improve.
“When we look at the number of women involved in aviation, the statistics are pretty dismal,” says Slovack. “Currently, only six per cent of commercial pilots are women, four per cent of commercial helicopter pilots are women, and 15 per cent of air traffic controllers.”
Unlike many other fields, aviation hasn’t seen the same rise in interest from women, something that will hopefully change with the event.
With some of the top employers in the aviation industry set to attend, including the Royal Canadian Air Force, RCMP, West Jet, Canadian Border Services Agency, and NAV Canada, the event pairs well with the organization’s young women in trades program, said Saroeun Keutch-Ray,regional manager for Careers: The Next Generation.
“We support female identifying youth to come and be inspired by experts in their area, get some hands-on training and get the opportunity to find a paid internship if that’s something they’re interested in,” Keutch-Ray said.
Behind it all though is a father who noticed the challenges his daughters were facing because of their gender.
“I started to notice a lot of the speed bumps that they had, and it really made me angry as a dad,” said Anthony Kish, YQL airport electrician and the mastermind behind the event, who is father to four daughters between 12 and 18 years old, one of whom hopes to be a pilot.
Kish said there were a few driving forces behind the idea of Aviation Day.
“I love this city, I love this job and I love this trade, and I love my girls. So, I saw an opportunity to bring it all together into one and have an event that would address those and so much more on those issues. I figured there were other parents out there who felt the same way, almost helpless in a way to help their kids. This is an opportunity that I can really push them toward it and say there are opportunities even though you have speed bumps.”
Keutch-Ray said there are a lot of myths about what women can and cannot do in relation to aviation, but she explained Careers: The Next Generation hopes to create more career awareness for young women and to bridge the gap allowing youth to better understand the opportunities that exist for them in the aviation industry.
Kish and Keutch-Ray both suspect the lack of women in the industry is a result of old-style thinking, but they are optimistic. “There definitely is a lot of progress, a lot of steps forward and a lot of opportunities and that’s why Aviation Day is here, to show that there are opportunities and it’s not that way of thinking across the board,” explained Kish. “There’s a lot of change that’s happening, a lot of opportunities and scholarships and grants and funding available for young women to take these steps.”
Kish admitted he wasn’t always aware of the inequalities girls and young women face.
“I was naive as a dad to think this wasn’t happening anymore.”
He said the issue spans beyond aviation and into other sectors of the trades industry, but now that he is aware, he encourages other fathers of girls and women to put themselves in their daughters’ shoes and talk to them about the issue.
While the theme of the event is women in aviation, anyone interested is invited to join. Slovack anticipates there will be upwords of 500 attendees and says pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, visit http://www.LethbridgeAirport.ca/aviationday