Growing Your Own

It’s common to hear concerns these days relating to the impending shortage of skilled technical workers. Pick up any newspaper, magazine, or read any number of online outlets and you will undoubtedly find writings on this subject.

The acronym STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, is commonly heard these days during discussions about education or technical and engineering careers. Organizations dedicated to connecting students, in the classroom and out, to science and related studies, have cropped up in an effort to inspire and motivate students to study and pursue careers which involve technical and engineering skills. These concerns are heard not only in the aerospace and aviation industry but throughout many other industries.

Many feel that industry has a responsibility to, for lack of better terms, grow their own. It’s clear that industry has recognized this need based on the number of emerging partnerships between aviation associations, academia, and industry to hopefully address this issue.

How do younger people and students gain exposure and inspiration to pursue the education needed for these much-needed technical and engineering careers? I recently returned from 2013 AirVenture Oshkosh where EAA and industry partners hold a weeklong event called KidVenture. Throughout the week hundreds of dedicated volunteers put in more than 10,000 volunteer hours and significantly raised the awareness of aviation, in particular aircraft maintenance, to thousands of youth between the ages of 4 to 17. Past estimates have been that well over 20,000 kids and parents pass through KidVenture during the week.

The enthusiasm among these youngsters is a wonderful sight. The kids participate in hands-on activities such as simple tasks on engines, riveting, or troubleshooting. If even a small percentage of them continue on and select an aviation career, I’d say it was a success!

In this issue of Aircraft Maintenance Technology, Charles Chandler describes the collaboration efforts in Rockford, IL, between universities and aerospace industry to create a talent pipeline. Last year the Rockford Area Economic Development Council formed a committee called the Rockford Area Aerospace Network (RAAN) to foster collaboration among the aerospace companies and their service providers so these companies’ goals are aligned and match the realities of current markets and the local talent pool.

From this effort came the Joint Institute of Engineering & Technology, Aerospace (JiET-A), a collaboration of colleges and universities and several recruiting and aviation companies, to develop and support the local aerospace talent pipeline, essentially growing their own. RAAN and the JiET-A are likely only two examples of initiatives meant to grow their own. All efforts directed toward inspiring youth, creating enthusiasm, interest, internships, and eventually careers in aviation and the aerospace fields should be commended.

Ron Donner has held both technical and management roles in general aviation and during his 27 years with Northwest Airlines. He holds FAA certificates as an A&P/IA and a commercial pilot.