What took you into Civil Engineering to start with?
When I left school, I knew that I wanted to fly, but my finances wouldn’t allow for that so I explored what would best suit me as a degree, looking for something to fall back on if aviation didn’t pan out.
Maths was always my strong suit and that led to my interest in engineering. I went for Civil specifically, because my Dad was a builder and I’d been brought up around building sites.
Were there any bits of it you did enjoy?
Yes, definitely the challenge of it – it was bloody hard! It suited my strengths… words are not my strong suit, I’m good at maths. With my upbringing around construction, it was interesting to learn more, in-depth… I knew how to do things, but not the why.
When did you realise you needed to make a career change?
Pretty quickly! I started working part-time in the third year of my degree and then stayed in after graduating, for about a year… but I realised that while I could do it, I didn’t enjoy it.
Working in an engineering environment never really worked for me – I’m much more hands-on and found being in an office, sitting behind a computer pretty tedious.
Ever since I’d been a kid, aviation always piqued my interests. My Mum was a flight attendant – we’d spend time at the airport, watching planes land – and I had other family in the industry, too. It was always at the back of my mind… During a side job doing construction labouring at uni, I’d see helicopters going overhead all day, and the interest was still there.
What steps did you take from there?
I was jack of engineering and the constant study, so when other opportunities came up, I took them – farming for 3 years, working with my wife’s family. I was outdoors in paddocks all day, learning how excavators and tractors work – it was a good learning experience.
I did a basic recreational license with a mate from uni and when I watched him doing a trial helicopter flight, I did one too, and I was hooked! I went straight into my commercial license… getting to know the instructors and trying to meet everyone else in this new world.
What things were most helpful in changing career?
First, farming was a great break; it gave me the flexibility to start saving and to pursue my pilot’s license.
I also became good mates with my flight instructor… When they took on a job at a flight school, they then offered me a job as a theory instructor, which really played to the strengths from my education in maths and science. It was my bread and butter (and it’s hard to find people with those skills) and teaching gave me the opportunity to get into the industry and to get a bit of experience…
Being flexible also really helped – to work in aviation, you need to be able to learn everything that surrounds flying, and I did bits and pieces everywhere. I was a sponge for knowledge, picking up everything I could from the people in the industry and doing everything I could, to get into the space.
I did the teaching, I did a bit of admin, and I used my skills from farming – specifically my knowledge of machinery – to get my foot in the door, driving trucks and touring for a while for an aviation company. I had to call people up and find out how to do everything… but if they asked me to do something, I found a way to do it.
Finally, I couldn’t have done any of this without the love and support of my partner, and my family behind me. It was a big decision to go down the aviation road, knowing the challenges I’d no doubt come across and their support made all the difference when times were tough.
What kinds of things held you back?
In aviation, it’s hard to get a foot in the door and it was quite brutal for the first few years. I didn’t get to fly much for a while and not having the experience was a bit of a catch 22, and a pain.
Finance held me back too – it took time to save up, and aviation’s a really frustrating industry as it takes money to advance and keep going; you always have to keep paying to study and to keep your licenses and ratings up.
Tell us about what you’re doing now…
I’m in a full-time flying role and I run a base and set my own roster. I have no regrets, I love what I do and have a much better lifestyle now. I might change in the future – there’s all sorts of stuff I’m interested in – but for now, it’s great.
What advice would you give people thinking of making their own career change?
Number one, you’ve got to have the right attitude. I think it was Richard Branson that said you can teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude… and that’s really true. If you don’t have the right attitude, you brush people up the wrong way.
Flexibility is number two. If you tie the two together, that’ll do more for you than just about any other thing – if you’re happy to learn and ready to take on anything.
Finally, if you can network with people, that’s awesome – especially in a small industry or community like aviation.
Talk to people in industry. A bunch won’t be interested – they’re fed up of people sending them resumes and they’re grumpy, but you’ve got to try. There’s a bunch who will give you good advice and steer you in the right direction.