Planting the Seed

Aug. 2, 2012
Schools, manufacturers, and cities form partnerships to help develop the aerospace industry work force

The industry claims there is a work force shortage to fill the needs of the growing aerospace market. So what are the solutions? Following are some of the innovative programs being created to instill the aviation passion in young children, train students to fill the job vacancies, and share resources to grow the needed work force.

Starting with youth

Rolls-Royce created a scale replica of the Trent 1000 engine, which powers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner; made of Legos, it was on display at this year’s Farnborough Airshow. With full moving parts, the engine allowed people to see the complex workings of a Rolls-Royce jet engine. The company developed the engine to catch the attention of budding scientists and engineers and to demonstrate the exciting careers available.

The one-of-a-kind Lego structure shows the complex inner workings of a jet engine and took four people eight weeks to complete. Including 152,455 Lego bricks, the engine weighs 307 kg and is over 2 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. More than 160 separate engine components were built and joined together in order to replicate a real jet engine.

Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce, chief scientific officer, says "Engineers have critical roles to play in solving the challenges of tomorrow, not least designing aircraft engines that will power people to the furthest corners of the world more efficiently. We are delighted to showcase this Lego engine, the first of its kind in the world. What we do is exciting and we hope that this representation of our technology will help to enthuse and inspire the potential scientists and engineers of the future about the career opportunities they could pursue."

FedEx Express doesn’t consider anyone too young to cultivate an interest in aviation maintenance. FedEx Express team members regularly accept invitations to speak at local elementary, junior and high schools; college and trade schools; and Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops. It also sponsors organizations that share its desire to promote the aviation industry, such as Women in Aviation (WIA) and Black Aerospace Professional (OBAP) organizations, as well as AMTSociety.

High school and college

AAR has started a program with the Westbury Union Free School District and the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City as a part of its nationwide “Taking Flight” education initiative. The partnership will provide local students internships and access to STEM related careers.

The AAR program in New York is the latest in a series of Taking Flight national education initiatives that the company is developing to introduce middle and high school students to exciting careers in aviation. The program includes participation in career days, field trips, and paid internships at AAR locations across the country, including Miami; Indianapolis; Oklahoma City; Chicago; Hot Springs, AR; and Goldsboro, NC. 

“The need for educated and technically skilled workers is a nationwide challenge and the work force of tomorrow is in the classroom today,” says Sam Gorman, vice president and general manager, AAR Aircraft Component Services — New York. “It is incumbent upon industry to connect the dots by bringing major players from government, education, industry, and nonprofits together.”

AAR has also pledged $100,000 in support of Miami public schools through a program with City Year Miami. City year members will serve as tutors, mentors, and role models at Miami Central Senior High School. AAR maintains a strong presence in the Miami area with maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) and landing gear services operations that employ more than 1,200 employees.

AAR recently commissioned a report, The Mid-skills Gap in Middle America: Building Today’s Workforce, which focuses on ways to close the skills gaps in America’s work force that are creating barriers to hiring and job creation ( 

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.

Classrooms are full of up-to-date machinery that was purchased with money allocated to the school from the Commonwealth of Virginia due to the relationship and the growth of Rolls-Royce in the area or donated by Rolls-Royce. To promote the school and the technical side of the industry, the school offers tours to local high school students, and the glass doors invite the young students to see what is going on in the classrooms, building excitement on what is available to them.

On the job training

FedEx Express not only looks to the community when attracting tomorrow’s AMTs to the profession, but also provides opportunities inside the company for current employees. It has a “Maintenance Trainee Program” (MTP) for its employees who have acquired their Airframe and Powerplant licenses but have not acquired the three years of experience needed to qualify to become a FedEx Express AMT. The rigorous MTP program pairs trainees with management as well as tenured AMT mentors who show them the ropes in an intensive, three-year program at the end of which trainees join the ranks of full-fledged AMTs. This allows FedEx to retain its own talented employees.

The solutions vary according to industry needs and local resources but there are solutions being implemented to create the next generation of aircraft mechanics. 

About the Author

Barb Zuehlke | Past Senior Editor | AMT