Ever since he was young, Mike Epp loved a good challenge.
He developed a passion for hockey in his teens, and his hard work and determination earned him a university scholarship. It was this same approach to sports that would eventually land him an egg-citing career at Nav Canada.
After extensive training, Mike is now a proud member of the Air Traffic Controller team. This unique career path has made a huge positive impact on his professional development, and he loves the work that he does. We connected with Mike to learn what a typical day in his role looks like – read on to find out!
Mike’s hockey career had armed him with a lot of useful skills. He spent many years balancing his schoolwork with sports, and he learned the value of teamwork, focus, and hard work. These aptitudes made him a great fit for the Air Traffic Controller team at Nav Canada.
“When I first stumbled upon the position, I saw they had a testing process to evaluate applicants,” says Mike. “I also read about how mentally stimulating it was – the fact that this career would provide a challenge each day intrigued me.”
Air Traffic Controllers are responsible for directing and communicating with pilots to ensure their safe passage through the skies. While it seems simple, the position involves managing a lot of different variables – weather changes being one of the biggest factors. Individuals selected for this role need to be able to make sound judgements and work under pressure.
Not surprisingly, Mike was a natural fit for the position. He spent several months engaged in basic aviation training, followed by specialized training in the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) stream. This was followed by on-the-job training, where Mike had the opportunity to put his education to work.
The training was intense, but it was exactly what Mike was looking for. Having set high goals all his life, he welcomed the challenge. “I knew if I put my mind to it, I could get it done,” says Mike.
A typical day
In many ways, Mike’s day-to-day job is routine – but at the same time, it can be unpredictable.
After signing in for his shift, he will tag out another Air Traffic Controller who is due for a break and receive a briefing on the current traffic situation. It’s Mike’s job to keep track of all the variables in his assigned sector during his shift, from changing weather patterns to new rules and directives assigned to the team – all while communicating and controlling the direction of several aircraft.
“You get a wide range of traffic complexity and unique scenarios,” says Mike. “I think a lot of people think it’s a bunch of people speaking in monotone voices, but it’s really exhilarating at times.”
Mike says his favourite part of his job is the autonomy he is given. He has the opportunity to work on his own within a team, and during his shift, he is entrusted with the safety of the aircraft flying through his area.
“How you control the aircraft is up to you, and the way you solve conflicts is up to you,” says Mike. “Having that responsibility every day… it’s like being your own boss.”
In addition to his regular shift work, Mike now trains new recruits. Having been in their shoes not too long ago, he says it’s exciting to impart his skills and knowledge to these young, aspiring professionals.
“I like that I had the chance to switch things up and try to help someone else succeed in the role,” says Mike.
A fulfilling career
There’s a lot of room for growth and development as an Air Traffic Controller. Many individuals choose to eventually participate in the development of new air traffic management technologies, and some decide to take their new skills to different operating centres. Plus, there are always opportunities for additional training.
For Mike, he says he’s happy in his role, and can’t see himself anywhere else. He’s joined several committees at Nav Canada and he’s happy working as a trainer.
“It’s a good job that offers a comfortable lifestyle,” says Mike. “There are sometimes stressful moments, but at the end of the day, you have the satisfaction of knowing you provided a great service and you got your passengers to their destinations safely.”
For hopeful new applicants looking to pursue an Air Traffic Controller career at Nav Canada, Mike says it’s important to apply yourself wholeheartedly to every aspect of your work. That drive to succeed will make this experience worthwhile – that’s something he knows from experience.
“I’ve always set high goals for myself, and this was no different,” says Mike. “But I knew if I put my mind to it, I could achieve it.”