The NextGen of A&Ps

For the new generation of aerospace industry technicians: commitment required, along with updated training strategies.

Baby boomers, set that “Wayback Machine” to the days of your airframe and powerplant training. Remember all those advertisements in the trade publications? “With the current generation of aircraft mechanics retiring, there will be a huge shortage of qualified aircraft workers and a demand for thousands of new technicians in the next few years . . .” Well, that was for the retiring World War II-era guys.

Well, we’re seeing those ads again. But this time it’s us heading into the sunset contrails, making room for a new generation of aerospace industry technicians. Ironically, they’ll be facing similar challenges — high fuel prices, new technologies, global competition, corporate “right-sizing,” and an uncertain economy. But this next group is different than we were. They dress, talk, and learn differently, using social networking as their primary means of communication, rather than face-to-face conversation. And their A&P training, while still the basic curriculum of “1,900 hours covering the subjects as prescribed in Appendixes B, C, D, etc.” as specified in FAR Part 147, has become, by necessity, different. It’s created a challenge for them as students, for those who are responsible for their training and, of course, for their eventual employers.

Rock Valley College is a “typical” Midwest AMT program — a two-year college that started its program, like many others, back in the mid-1960s. For more than 40 years, RVC’s aviation maintenance technology program has consistently attracted, prepared, and placed high quality students.

Charles Billman is the current program coordinator. “I started here as a student in 1969 and the jet engine training I received prepared me for opportunities in the U.S. Navy after I graduated. That was before FAA Part 147 standardization in the early 1970s. Since then, there have been only minimal changes in the FAA-approved curriculum, even though industry standard and procedures have advanced drastically.”

There’s nothing new about the commitment that current A&P college students are required to make. They must attend classes for two years, at least five hours per day, five days a week almost year-round. That’s just to fulfill the contact hour requirements needed to take the FAA written, oral, and practical exams. But many of today’s students want more — at least an associate degree in applied science, requiring commitment in completing additional required college “gen-ed” courses. And many of them are planning for a bachelor’s degree, if not graduate school, in the future.

Students from all walks of life

RVC classes start in the sticky heat of mid-August, with freshmen students arriving at the big blue RVC hangar located at the Chicago Rockford International Airport. They come from all walks of life, and a variety of ages, backgrounds, genders, cultures, and experiences. Some are the more “traditional” recent high school graduates, unsure of their career path, making this program their first adult commitment.

Some, like Adam Wrenn were influenced by family members already in the aviation field. “My sister was in school to be an airline pilot and she convinced me to put my mechanical interests into aviation, which I always enjoyed anyway.” Tyler Bennett says, “My uncle and father took me to airshows every summer and that made me interested in how airplanes work.” Wes Evenson comes from a long line of mechanics as well: “I’ve always been fascinated by turbines.”

Other younger students may not have a family influence, but see aviation as an interesting career choice. Sam Hanson says, “The fact that aircraft are so complicated and interesting; it’s always been an idea of mine to learn about them.” Randy Rodriguez, the son of Mexican parents, agrees, “Airplanes have always interested me, especially WW II fighters.”

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