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Selecting, onboarding, and transitioning flight instructors

Flight instructors play a pivotal role in the success of any flight training business, and we know all too well how scarce of a resource they are as airlines are actively recruiting them away as soon as they meet hour requirements.

Define the required qualifications and skills

Define what you need from the CFI you are going to hire. If they don’t have the qualifications or meet insurance requirements that you need to operate, are you willing to invest in them so they do? Many operations are willing to hire CFIs who don’t have instrument instruction privileges and help them complete that. Some aren’t. If you really need a CFII and aren’t willing to build them, don’t interview or worse, hire people who aren’t CFIIs. Wait for a candidate who really meets your needs than put someone on who doesn’t really help your training operation.

Many times CFIs will have experience in different makes and models of aircraft or avionics systems. Are you willing to spend some time helping them transition into new platforms? If not, do you expect them to figure it out on their own? Certainly, you aren’t hoping they will figure these things out in the right seat with a paying customer. These are tough questions and can be things that cost your operation real dollars as you onboard and integrate CFIs into your operation, but doing this carefully will generate a better product delivery to your customers. Oh, it also probably makes the instructional time safer also.

Be clear in your hiring process as to what you will expect of the candidates. Don’t waste your time or theirs starting a relationship that doesn’t really deliver what you need for your business from the potential employee.

Cost of recruitment and training

Employee turnover is a costly challenge that businesses face, affecting various aspects of operations. Employee turnover necessitates constant recruitment efforts and extensive training for new hires. This has been painfully evident for most flight training providers over the past couple of years. The recruitment process involves advertising, screening resumes, conducting interviews, and onboarding. These activities demand time, resources, and potentially hiring external recruitment agencies. Once a new employee is hired, training becomes a critical investment. Orientation, job-specific training, and mentoring all require significant time and effort. The cumulative expenses associated with recruitment and training can quickly add up, straining the operational budget.

Comprehensive screening process

Develop a comprehensive screening process that encompasses interviews, reference checks, and flight evaluations. Conduct in-depth interviews to assess the candidate's teaching methods, ability to handle various scenarios, and compatibility with your training program. Reach out to references to gain insights into the candidate's professionalism, reliability, and commitment. Consider conducting flight evaluations to gauge their flight skills, decision-making abilities, and situational awareness. This thorough screening process will enable you to make informed decisions and select instructors who meet your standards of excellence.

Here's something I have asked many flight training providers when they have inquired about some individual who I might or might not know as a CFI and “if they would be a good CFI for us to hire?” Sometimes my response is simple: “Well, the place that trained them didn’t hire them, did they?”

Now, this is a little bit of an oversimplification, but if they trained at college X or flight school Z and you know those operations are hurting for staff and actively recruiting CFIs, but didn’t hire the person you are considering, there might be a reason. Just because someone has a CFI certificate, it doesn’t mean they didn’t take five tries to pass, didn’t have a bad track record as a student, or weren’t a risky customer in their flight operations. Your business has no desire to turn a risky anything into a risky flight instructor.

If the CFI didn’t go to work for the place they trained and there is a good reason, it can be a different story. A CFI who traveled to do their training three states away, moved into your area, has a place to live here instead of there—all of these might be reasons they might just be looking for a job somewhere else because of how their life conditions are working out. It might even be a question you ask a potential candidate in the interview process. “Why didn’t you go to work for flight school T after you completed your CFI certificate there?” It’s an honest question. There are lots of potential answers. I have even had some not be willing to go back to places because the operation in which they trained had safety concerns and they wanted to work for a more professional operation. That's savvy, and in my opinion a good indication for a potential staff member. If the answer is just, “They didn’t want to hire me,” you might start to wonder why and think twice.

Cultural fit and compatibility

In addition to technical proficiency, assessing cultural fit and compatibility is crucial. Your flight instructors should align with your company's values, work ethics, and overall culture. During the selection process, evaluate their interpersonal skills, teamwork abilities, and willingness to collaborate. This can be hard to evaluate sometimes, but having multiple people from your operation spend a little time with a candidate can be a way to gauge if anyone is getting that friction feeling.

In part two of this two-part series, we’ll discuss how to transition your new hires into your operations and set them up for access.