Ensuring a pipeline of workers with the heavy technical skills the aerospace and aviation industry requires has spurred some innovative workforce development partnerships around the country.
A skilled workforce is critical to the success of U.S. manufacturing, and no more so than in the aerospace and aviation industry. Ensuring a pipeline of workers with the heavy technical skills the industry requires has spurred some innovative partnerships around the country. In Washington state, birthplace of the Boeing Co., the industry includes 650 aerospace companies employing more than 95,000 workers. Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges are involved in a number of innovative programs that improve the skills of the aviation workforce and help meet industry needs. Air Washington, based at Spokane Community College, is a $20 million initiative that brings together 11 community and technical colleges whose goal is to educate more than 2,600 students for careers in the state’s vast aerospace industry. Twenty-five percent of those students are armed forces veterans. Students are being trained in the hands-on part of aerospace to eventually begin careers in fields such as airport power plant maintenance, avionics electronics and advanced manufacturing composites. “Another aspect of the program is to provide training for existing businesses to eventually earn AS 9100 certification, a top-quality measurement,” says Rod Taylor, Spokane Community College associate dean for technical education. “Big aerospace companies like Boeing won’t look at supplier companies today unless they are AS 9100 certified, so this Air Washington initiative is actually training students, as well as entire businesses.” Partnerships played a key role in revitalizing manufacturing in Wichita, Kan., after the aviation industry shed thousands of local jobs. In the months following the downturn, the city and Sedgwick County partnered with Wichita Area Technical College to build the National Center for Aviation Training to help displaced workers gain the high-tech skills they needed to find new jobs in the industry. The school gained major notice among aviation companies as an asset for investing in Wichita. The NCAT was chosen to work with other top schools in the industry to develop an aviation curriculum for the future. “It showed that our community was ready to play,” says David Bossemeyer, managing director of business development for the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition.