Planting the Seed

Schools, manufacturers, and cities form partnerships to help develop the aerospace industry work force


In the Rockford, IL, area, the Joint Institute of Engineering & Technology-Aerospace (JiET-A) provides high school and college students in the region a path to engineering degrees, including high-quality paid internships at leading aerospace companies. The initiative was announced in May of this year.

JiET-A was formed by 17 organizations that supported the need to collaborate, to connect students’ academic curriculum with work experiences. The goal of the program is to have 200 students in the pipeline so up to 40 graduates go to work annually for local aerospace companies. This includes innovative internships, mentorships, and scholarships that lead to employment in the aerospace industry. The aerospace cluster in the Rockford area includes more than 200 companies, from Boeing's corporate headquarters in Chicago to four tier-one suppliers in Rockford and numerous companies up and down the supply chain.

The institute connects aerospace companies to four colleges and universities where post-secondary students participate in internships that are integrated into their academic curriculum. The participating colleges and universities are Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Northern Illinois University (NIU), Rockford College, and Rock Valley College.

Students can also apply for scholarships from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois and the participating higher educational institutions. Internship opportunities are available at B/E Aerospace, Comply365, GE Aviation, Hamilton Sundstrand, Kaney Aerospace, Woodward, and others.

GE Aviation Systems general manager Carlos Miller says, “We are quite impressed with what has been created. As a member of the aerospace industry, we welcome this innovative and collaborative way of taking control and helping to shape the future. GE Aviation is excited about adding interns through this effort and we know it will be good for the entire region.”

Hamilton Sundstrand Electric Systems director of engineering Tom Gillis adds, “The aerospace industry is facing a perfect storm with the engineering shortage and the long-term growth mode of the industry. The JiET-A program will enable our region to develop our own technical work force to meet these growth opportunities, and to continue providing the good-paying jobs that improve our local economy and quality of life.”

Woodward Aircraft Turbine Systems vice president of R & D and Systems, Terry Voskuil notes, “Woodward is excited about this initiative. We need to create and fill a pipeline of engineering talent to propel our future growth in Rockford.”

Northern Illinois University’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Dean Promod Vohra, Ph.D., says, “NIU and the higher education institutions are delighted to be part of JiET-A and to expand our partnerships with each other and with the aerospace companies. This is a new level of support, practical experience, and mentorship for students in the region, as we integrate academic curriculum with hands-on internships at the companies that are heavily invested in this initiative. NIU is committed to providing seamless education to students coming out of the JIET-A program and has already developed 2+2 articulation agreements for our engineering programs with Rock Valley College.”

Another example of academia and industry working together was evident at John Tyler Community College in Virginia on a visit earlier this year on behalf of Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

John Tyler Community College is a two-year, public institution of higher education and the fifth largest of the 23 community colleges in Virginia. With campuses in Chester and Midlothian and off-campus classrooms throughout the area, it offers opportunities for students who want to earn a degree or certificate, transfer to a four-year college or university, train for the work force, or switch careers. It offers an associate of applied science degree and technical certificate programs that focus on mechanical maintenance, precision machining, and welding. 

It’s the partnership with Rolls-Royce’s Crosspointe facility that adds to its value to the student, aviation industry, and the community. The welding program, NDT training, among other programs are designed to what the industry needs in terms of skill level and knowledge. Advisory councils make suggestions that lead to curriculum updates; and internships with Rolls-Royce lead to permanent positions.

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