Thursday, November 12, 2009

Discovered on the Airport PA

Peter Mansbridge, a respected Canadian broadcaster, has just been awarded the Order of Canada. I wouldn't have remarked on this, or any other OC appointments were it not for how Peter got his start in broadcasting. Apparently at the age of 19 he was slinging bags for Transair, a small airline in northern Manitoba, and a CBC employee who heard his voice on the airport PA offered him a job at the radio station.

But why was he in Churchill working for a local airline? Most young people working in any capacity at a northern airline base are pilots or wannabe pilots. Is Peter Mansbridge a pilot? He probably wanted to be. The Canadian Encyclopedia says he flunked out of Navy pilot training. He wasn't even a customer service agent, he was a cargo handler, filling in on the PA for someone who was off sick. This anecdote suggests that he can recognize an engine failure without freaking out, but the same is probably true of many seasoned travellers.

I don't even know if that's true. It's more likely to be so than this version of the same story, which I found in an intership newsletter.

Mansbridge became instead an air force pilot until, after hearing his voice over the radio, someone hired him to open the CBC`s first post in Churchill, MB.
Air Force/Navy ... pilot/flunked out ... radio/PA ... it's all the same, right?

Don't you wish you were looking for a job in 1975? I have heard so many stories of the seventies when people with minimal qualifications got jobs because they gave someone else a ride to work, or were delivering something, or doing something else almost entirely unrelated within sight of someone who worked there. The availability of good jobs in the seventies is why that generation thinks my generation are all slackers, and don't understand why we roll our eyes when they tell us how hard they worked to be where they are.

Not that I doubt Peter Mansbridge is good at his job. And I think he did work hard to be noticed. To be where he is, he not only has to do a good job of telling the news, but an exceptional job at politics and interpersonal relations. I would probably be at an airline if I had half his people skills. And he probably wouldn't be an officer of the Order of Canada if he were flying for Air Canada today.


Julien said...

Jobs you can get for giving someone a ride still exist, it's just that they've shifted to other, less mature industries than aviation.

Each time an industry experiences booming growth, the balance between supply and demand is upset in such a way that looking for persons who are already skilled is not enough (e.g. operating a computer in the early 80s). Add to that the inability for a booming industry to tell a competent person from a less competent one (e.g. Web designers during the dot com boom) and you understand why the whole recruiting game is played on gut feeling. This also applies to anything with the word "media" in it, such as broadcasting.

As industries mature and become regulated (think aviation in the 1930s or health in previous centuries), this type of behaviour is less obvious because it is hidden behind CVs and degrees which help rationalise irrational choices, but it's still there.

One could even argue that once the playing field is levelled using degrees, licences, certifications or ratings, it's back to gut feeling and chance. Something fledgling commercial pilots know all too well.

Chad said...

Well put Julien.

david said...

What Julien said.

Canadian unemployment rates...

1975: 6.9%
1985: 10.5%
1995: 9.5%
2005: 6.8%
2008: 6.1%

The job market is better than it has been for much of my working life (even with a temporary spike to above 8% unemployment earlier this year); it's just that some industries, like aviation, IT, advertising, performing arts, and journalism, are overcrowded and, thus, underpaid. Too bad those are the industries young people want to get into most.

RemNepo said...

"...I have heard so many stories of the seventies when people with minimal qualifications got jobs ..."

Maybe true in other industries but not my experience in aviation. The main difference then was that there were no feeder airlines. You worked as a flight instructor or if you were really lucky some rinky-dink airline or bush operation flying crazy hours and often under-maintained aircraft.

If you happened to be one of the lucky few hired by An Airline - you spent up to 12 years sitting in the back seat running dials and buttons watching the real pilots fly the plane. At least now many more pilots get to spend those "apprenticeship" years flogging around in Beech 1900s, Dash 8s, and even RJs for goodness sakes!

Aviatrix said...

I confided to one mentor my concerns about not having much hard IFR time under my belt and he told me he didn't have any when he was hired by Air Canada. Out of a Beaver.

Those days are over.

But your point is well taken, David. I have two friends my age who retrained in nursing recently, for example.

dpierce said...

I have offered jobs to random strangers whose personality struck me the right way. I can train a person in just about any skill I require, and I don't mind making that investment. What I can't train someone to do ...

- Naturally work well with my team
- Demonstrate strong common sense and good instinct
- Interface beautifully with my customers
- Understand at a gut level what I'm trying to do with my business

... and after a certain age, it's very difficult to train someone in work ethic. A short ride in a car or plane, though, is enough to allow me to gauge fairly accurately if the person will have the above traits, and my hiring instincts haven't let me down yet.

(Yes, I appreciate my above analysis completely ignores the experience factor, but that's not the biggest concern in some positions.)

zb said...

I agree to everyone and I guess the truth lies somewhere between "...I have heard so many stories of the seventies when people with minimal qualifications got jobs ..." and another quote by the punk/folk/noise artists Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon that goes "Nostalgia for an Age that never Existed".