Mentorship interactions in the aviation or aerospace industries.

Author:Sampson, Enrique, Jr.


Most might argue that U.S. aerospace industry jobs are high paying and demand a certain level of technical aptitude. As more young workers enter the aerospace industry, mentorship could potentially provide a means to advance through peer coaching and personal development. "Historically, the concept of mentorship originates from Greek mythology, particularly Homer's Odyssey. During the Middle Ages, mentorship was practiced via apprenticeships" (Block, Claffey, Korow, & McCaffrey, 2005, p. 1). Smith, Howard, and Harrington (2005) quote Merriam as having stated "mentoring appears to mean one thing to developmental psychologists, another thing to business people, and a third thing to those in academic settings" (p. 2). Other scholars have suggested that the industry context influences how mentors perform (Smith et al.).

Kram (1985) described four distinct phases of mentorship: initiation, cultivation, and redefinition. The initiation phase is the time period when the mentorship forms. A prospective protgee begins to respect the potential mentor as a competent individual and a person from whom the protege would like to receive support and guidance (Kram, 1985). At the same time, the mentor begins to recognize the protege as someone who deserves special attention and coaching within the organization (Kram, 1985). The initiation stage is typically followed by the cultivation phase, in which the mentorship partners learn more about each other's capabilities and optimize the benefits of participating in the mentorship (Kram, 1985).

Kram (1985) further noted that the cultivation phase would be the period in which the protege benefits most from interactions with the mentor. The structural and psychological separation between the mentorship partners when the functions provided by the mentor decrease and the protege acts with more independence and autonomy. The redefinition phase terminates a mentorship, and the partners evolve the relationship to one of informal contact and mutual support (Kram. 1985).

The fact that mentoring occurs just as often "organically," without either the imprimatur of an organization or the structure provided by a formal program, indicates that mentoring is more than an organizational imperative (Barry & Feeney, 2009). The concept of mentoring is a social relationship pursued by individuals expecting returns to their careers and to their human and social capital (Barry & Feeney, 2009). The realization of the expectations of organizations, mentors, and protegees is often under discussion (Barry & Feeney, 2009). Mentoring programs abound in both public and private organizations and the value of the programs to the individual and to the organization often is taken as an article of faith in every industry to understand and assist mentees with meeting expectations (Barry & Feeney, 2009).

Interestingly enough, the majority of studies of mentoring outcomes focus exclusively on perceptions. Studies have focused on more tangible outcomes (e.g., job mobility, career progress predominately-oriented studies) over perception-based variables (e.g., job satisfaction, organizational commitment; Aryee & Chay, 1994; Bozionelos 2004; Scandura 1992). Given the abundance of research on mentoring coupled with a plethora of literature on leadership development, research on aviation and aerospace industries contributed to favorable results in career advancement and improved human capital (Barry & Feeney, 2009). From a research perspective, this paper will exemplify the advantages of mentorship applied to the aerospace industry:


Historical perspectives will show that mentorship for the aerospace industry began with the Wright brothers and have influenced the aviation industry over last century. Historically speaking and interestingly enough, the word mentor originated around the time of Ulysses. Ulysses or as he was known at the time, Odysseus gave authority of protection over his son (i.e., Telemachus) to a counselor or tutor when his son set out on many journeys. Over the years, the name Mentor--with a lower case "m" has come to mean wise and trusted teacher, tutor, and counselor.

Expanding on historical methodology, the name mentor exemplifies a situation where one would agree to take another 'under their wing' in the hopes of assisting in the advancement of their vocation. The first would then be the mentor of the second or their protege very similar to Telemachus who was the selected mentor's protege. Coming full circle however, this communicative interaction being voluntary, and mutually agreed upon has become an institutionalized ploy financially displayed between individuals where society has humorously but cautiously labeled consultation, or the work of a hired consultant.

The First Airplane

The history of the state of North Carolina is linked to aviation. December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers flew the first U.S. airplane (Jakab, 2003). Mid 1909, the United States marveled at the tremendous feats previously accomplished by the Wright brothers. Six years had passed since that historical day in 1903, and the Wright brothers were finally poised for the domestic and international recognition that they had fought to achieve. The headlines and history echoed their names for a second time, but in Fort Myer, Virginia (Allen, 2002). On August 2, 1909, the U.S. Army accepted its first aeroplane into inventory once the Wright brothers meet certain governmental specifications (Allen).

Numerous inventors of flying machines (Ennels, 2002) challenged the Wright brothers' domination of the flying market. Just prior to 1920, the U.S. postal service initiated an airmail service that established a major position in the expansion and growth of aviation and through external motivation setting the foundation for airports worldwide (Jakab, 2003). In 1925, private carriers began delivering mail and transporting revenue passengers with the support and mentorship of the U.S. government. The initiative led to the establishment of airline companies, such as Pan Am in 1928, TWA in 1928, and Delta in 1929 (Jakab, 2003).

As the years passed, interest in airplane travel grew exponentially, but safety became a major concern. A collaborative assessment by aircraft designers at Boeing and Lockheed led to the production of safer aircrafts and the introduction of the aerospace industry. To create inclusive safety standards in these new industries, the Civilian Aeronautic Board (CAB) was established in 1938 (Corvera-Tindel, Doering, Gomez, & Dracup, 2004). The consorted efforts of Boeing and Lockheed coupled with the creation of the CAB helped increase the number of airline passengers from about 2,000 a year around 1930 to well over 16 million in 1949. The introduction of jet airplanes by 1957 allowed more people to enjoy flying while increasing aviation employment. During the initial phases of aviation, mentorship became a tool many aviators used because "mentors tell it like it is and provide society with insights into any industry" (Caron, 2008, p. 1).

Uncertainty of Industry Deregulation

In 1978, the Airline Deregulation Act was established and some considered it unfair ethical practices. Business ethics is a primary concern within the business community and amongst the public and private sectors (Forte, 2004). However, this Act gave all airlines the ability to establish specific routing systems for the good of all involved. Worthy to note, one of the most memorable examples of aviation mentorship occurred in 2005. During that year, an aviation Air National Guardsman teamed up with an aviation student who wanted desperately to become a military pilot. Due in part to business ethics at the time, the guardsman is now the Adjutant General of the NHNG and the students recently graduated--military pilot (Caron, 2008).

About 30 years later, in 2006, the CAB was abolished to the dismay of some and excitement of others. To maintain a regulatory force, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began mandating regulating airline safety. Since the mid 1980s, management theory as applied to the aviation and aerospace industries has evolved because of privatization, deregulation, and mentorship. Organizations need to measure involvement and satisfaction through mentorship and monitor understanding of the business strategy (Lawler, 2006) to arrive at the evasive prescription to operational growth.

Day (2000) stipulated that effective mentors build networking associations amongst employees and employers who augment collaboration and supply exchange while establishing operational and organizational worth. Furthermore, mentoring can assist businesses in maintaining a continued existence surrounding individualistic and specialized workplace improvement. Siebold (2006), however, proposed...

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