By Tara Lynn Wagner
When Monica Hernandez graduated high school, she wasn’t sure what to do next. Then one day, while going through a catalog for the North Valley Occupational Center, she came across the Aircraft Mechanic Program.
“I personally thought it was the coolest,” she says. “So I tried it out.”
Not that she was always mechanically inclined. At first, the idea of working on an engine was intimidating.
“Honestly it still is,” she admits. But through hands-on experience, she’s gaining the confidence she needs to spread her wings.
And that’s a good thing, too, because the aircraft industry needs her, and then some. Instructor Dave Bowerman says companies regularly call the school, which is located at Van Nuys Airport, looking for new hires.
“They are continually calling us saying ‘Help, we need mechanics!’” he says.
In fact, he and his colleagues believe the industry will need 600,000 new mechanics over the next 10 years, so the jobs are out there. And they pay well – around $26 an hour to start and almost $40 an hour after only a few years.
Plus this course is relatively affordable. While a private program might cost more than $40,000, this two-year program, offered through LAUSD’s Division of Adult and Career Education, costs $2,400 total.
Aviation mechanic is still considered a nontraditional career path for women, but instructor Ed Holyoke would very much like to see that change. And he says it has to if the industry hopes to have a big enough workforce to meet future demands.
“Women are capable of this kind of work,” he says. “There’s no reason they can’t do it.”
Hernandez thinks the biggest hurdle might be perception.
“They see the title mechanic and could be intimidated by it,” she guesses.
“But they shouldn’t be, because it’s actually empowering.”
She plans to work as an aircraft mechanic for a few years at least, saying there’s no place else she’d rather be. After that, she’s not sure where her career will take her, but with the education and experience she’s already gotten, she knows the sky’s the limit.