Part 107 was implemented, it’s easier than ever to get a commercial drone license. Getting a good job in the drone industry, however, can prove more difficult. If you’re a student trying to break in to the industry or a seasoned professional looking for a career change, start planning to be the right candidate for a job from the beginning.
#1. Choose Your Focus. The “drone industry” is a big field, so newcomers should decide what aspect of the industry they’d like to pursue. There are jobs available for drone pilots, drone repair experts, and drone fleet managers. Drone pilots should think about what sector they’d most like to work in: opportunities in law enforcement, security, agriculture, construction, and energy are just the tip of the iceberg.
The industry isn’t just for pilots – legal experts, developers, engineers, geospatial data specialists, and mapping professionals will all find tremendous opportunities by choosing to focus on drone tech. If you aren’t sure of what the options are, you’re not alone – but a visit to one of the many commercial drone sites or trade shows will provide a good overview of the type of work drone professionals are doing.
#2. Invest in Good Training. When you have a focus in mind, you’ll have to find the right training: participation in a respected aerospace program will go a long way towards giving you a boost in the job market. “Training, especially programs featuring application of learned knowledge, is critical to success in this rapidly evolving field,” says Brent Terwilliger, Program Chair of the M.S. in Unmanned Systems offered at Embry-Riddle, a recognized global leader in aerospace education. “While Part 107 certification requires knowledge recall, application of the associated knowledge, skills, and abilities requires practice, evaluation, feedback, and adjustment; all traits central to a well thought out and designed training program.”
A good training program will allow students to get a solid background in aeronautical science, while offering a variety of specific skills. And the training doesn’t have to be a four-year or degree program: universities like Embry-Riddle now provide a wide variety of coursework – much of it offered online in a flexible format.
#3. Work the Network. Very few people like to network – but it doesn’t have to be painful to meet companies in the drone industry. Start with your training program: working with a known institution has additional benefits in the job search. Institutions recognized in the aerospace industry will have valuable connections and a large network of alumni; they can provide students with ways to build their lists of contacts. Terwilliger says that Embry-Riddle attends many drone industry trade shows and expositions throughout the year. “We really encourage our students to attend with us,” says Terwilliger. “And we provide networking opportunities and events which allow them to meet industry leaders.”
In addition to networking onsite, increase your network online. Harry McNabb, CMO of DRONELIFE, grew his LinkedIn network of over 2500 contacts in the drone industry over the course of a few years. Growing a list of contacts doesn’t have to be difficult, McNabb says. “The industry is growing so fast and is so young right now that people are very happy to connect – they’re interested in sharing information and resources.” Groups on Facebook, such as the Part 107 Study Group and other professional groups, or niche groups such as those established for women in the industry, can also provide significant support and information.
While landing a job in the drone industry isn’t a sure thing, there is good news: it’s growing fast, and many companies are hiring. Drone and aerospace companies have positions available; but more and more traditional companies is energy, agriculture, construction and inspections are introducing or expanding their drone programs to take advantage of the commercial benefits that drone technology provides.