Air Traffic Controllers are like crossing guards in the sky, except the job is one of the most stressful and demanding out there. Becoming an Air Traffic Controller is quite the process. For one, you have to pass an 8-hour test, but before you can even apply to take the test you need either a bachelor’s degree (not in anything in particular) or at least three years of work experience. Then you can enter one of the two training programs out there. If your school recommends you after that, you attend 12-weeks of even more training, and then viola! You’re an Air Traffic Controller … in training. About 2-4 years later, after all the training and certifications, THEN you’re official.
Air Traffic Controllers like being in charge. They don’t have the luxury of asking a panel for help with their decision making, and that’s OK with them. They’re comfortable working in a crowded room with a big, distracting view or in a dark room with nothing but radar blips as a guide.
Air Traffic Controllers are big-time multi-taskers. They have a lot of different things going on at once and a lot of people to communicate with. They must have a good memory, quick decision-making skills and the ability to communicate concisely and clearly. Dealing with stress is a must, and the ability to concentrate in a noisy environment is the only way you’ll survive.
This is not a day job or summer gig. This is a serious career. If you can only concentrate in a silent room, if you have a hard time making decisions on your own, and if you need to take 30-minute potty breaks every hour, you’re not going to hack it as an Air Traffic Controller.
In addition to learning about the equipment you’ll be using (technology like radar, etc.) you’ll learn about the science of traffic. You may think traffic is just the thing that makes you late for work each morning, but there’s a huge science of cause and effect at work. You’ll learn outcomes from various actions and moves to keep things flowing smoothly and safely.
Almost all Air Traffic Controller jobs are through the Federal Aviation Administration. While your employer is pretty much set for you, there’s a lot of different things you can do. You can work with planes that are taking off, planes that are arriving, planes in the air between airports – basically any place planes are, you can be their guide.
If there are more applicants than openings for the test that gets the whole ball rolling, applicants are selected at random. So there’s not much you can do to ensure you’re chosen to take the test. However, you can help yourself immensely while in the program with a background in aeronautics – either with you college study or experience in the military.
There are about a billion check-points where if you don’t make the grade, you’re cut. There aren’t many second chances for those aspiring to be Air Traffic Controllers because there aren’t second chances for planes full of people being directed. You’ll need to keep a sharp mind and study hard, but also be able to pass physical examinations and drug exams.