Andres Czajkowski is a Boeing 737 pilot most recently employed by Virgin Australia at its New Zealand unit, which was closed in April as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
As an airline pilot who has recently been made redundant, I’m now struggling to find any type of employment.
Sure, the economy is not looking good and we are in unprecedented times, but even the most “basic” industries must need people to fill roles (maybe even to fill rolls).
However, the feedback I have received numerous times is that I am “overqualified”. My confidence is definitely taking a beating; I should be getting calls left, right and centre but the phone just is not ringing.
Coming from the airline world, where gaining and retaining your qualifications feels like a never-ending process, I find the rejection a bit jarring.
After all, I thought I would be the ideal candidate to drive a courier van or stack shelves: I have a strong work ethic, learn quickly, show up on time and I’m not afraid of putting in the hours!
I’ve been dealing with on-time performance, managing crews, problem solving, and data analysis for as long as I’ve been a pilot.
Most of the roles I’ve applied for are infinitely less complex than being at the controls of a highly sophisticated modern airliner and its precious cargo.
So, if I am overqualified to stack shelves or pack boxes, what roles am I suited to? What can a pilot bring to the table? Or, knowing that there are many others in my shoes, what can we bring?
Because flying an aircraft has become such an ingrained reflex, 90 per cent of the tasks I perform on the flightdeck now require more instinct than thought.
But it is not those core flying skills I need to be thinking about: after all, a courier van doesn’t have thrust levers, flaps and landing gear.
Actually, it’s clearly the wider skill set that will serve me best in the hunt for non-flightdeck employment.
As pilots, we are self-aware, have solid intelligence quotients, and score well on emotional intelligence. Crew resource management trains us to have good people skills, too: we are strong communicators and effective team leaders.
We are detail-orientated, as well as having solid situational awareness. We analyse data continuously, trouble shoot and problem solve; we are adaptable, can quickly think of a plan b (sometimes even a plan c, d or e).
These are all skills that we continuously prove out in the real world. Sure, they are tailored to a particular occupation, but are applicable to many other jobs out there.
One role that was recently highlighted to me is that of operational manager. This requires the ability to manage a project through to its conclusion, an eye for detail, critical thinking, communication, adaptability, creativity, innovation, data literacy and, most importantly, leadership.
See any parallels yet? Captains, as well as first and second officers, possess all those skills and more. Sure, captains have shinier epaulettes and get to exercise these skills more than the rest of us, but just because we have two or three bars instead of four doesn’t mean we don’t have the same command endorsement or the same capabilities.
So, I am encouraging myself to shoot higher, persevere and work towards a better future, regardless of what happens in aviation. I can’t control that, I can only control my attitude and what I do about the situation.
I am heartened to think that I have something of value to offer. I might have to work harder than the candidate next to me who has been in a management role for the past couple of decades, but what’s new about that? I wouldn’t have secured a place in the cockpit if it hadn’t been for my perseverance, tenacity and never-say-die attitude. Besides, any role can be learnt.
I have to believe that someone will look at my skills and give me a shot. I would hate to think that I will have to work in a “brain dead” job for the next two years. But if aviation teaches us anything, it is that we can adapt, we can conquer and – most importantly – we can overcome.