Fueling Your Career with JiET-A

June 18, 2013
Academia, business, and community leaders work together to develop industry growth.

Airlines for America, a trade group organization representing the principal U.S. airlines and their affiliates, states that “commercial aviation is the backbone of the modern American economy, driving more that $1 trillion in annual economic activity and nearly 10 million well-paying American jobs. Aviation supports local economies and creates new markets at home and abroad. For every 100 airline jobs, some 360 are supported outside of the airline industry.” 

The competition to attract and retain aviation-related companies is fierce because the value in an area is exponential. There is a growing trend of regional business organizations, municipalities, and government agencies collaborating to attract new business or help resident aviation companies grow. Rockford, IL's Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is an example of this level of competition and successful collaboration for aviation business development and job creation and retention. 

Rockford Aerospace Manufacturing Cluster

Rockford’s cluster of companies is one of the leading aerospace employment centers in the country. Winnebago County is home to five major tier-one aerospace service providers: B/E Aerospace, GE Aviation, Esterline, UTC Aerospace Systems, and Woodward. Together they provide design, manufacturing, assembly, inspection, testing, repair, and software services to all major aircraft manufacturers, including Boeing and Airbus. These companies may be competitors yet are interdependent because of their common need for services and supplies.

One critical need is manpower, a vital component necessary to run the Rockford aviation manufacturing engine. Currently more than 6,500 employees in the aerospace industry sector work in the Rockford MSA, making it the “6th in the nation in terms of concentration of aerospace production employment and one of the largest in the nation in overall aerospace employment.” Despite that, manpower shortages could be a limiting factor for its future growth.

Jeff Kaney, Rockford business owner and entrepreneur, states that because of recent company headquarter moves, mergers, and acquisitions, much of the local senior management who served on community development committees moved away. To fill that leadership void, the visionary and former Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC) president, Janyce Fadden, formed a coalition of local leaders from academia, government, and business. Its charter was to develop a tier of support organizations to address manpower and other needs of the Rockford MSA aviation companies, attract new companies, and increase the wealth of the community through aviation job creation.

Janyce Fadden explains, “Aerospace wages are double the average Rockford-area per capita income. By growing our aerospace cluster, we increase the wealth of our community by adding more high-paying jobs.” There are three functioning organizations now in place to help achieve these goals and strategies. 

Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC)

Its primary role is business oversight, building wealth through marketing initiatives, and helping employers retain and create quality jobs. RAEDC helps community leaders stay focused and engaged in economic development and serves as a “one-stop resource” for aviation companies competing for business. It has also formed a committee called the Rockford Area Aerospace Network (RAAN) that is staffed by about 20 leaders from local private aerospace companies.

Rockford Area Aerospace Network (RAAN)

RAAN fosters collaboration among the aerospace companies and their service providers so Rockford MSA’s and the aerospace companies’ goals are aligned and match the realities of current markets, policies, and economics.

Jeff Kaney, RAAN chairman and CEO of Kaney Group, says, “The lack of qualified manpower is the No. 1 limiting factor to growth for our Rockford companies. We are faced with the challenge of recruiting and retaining qualified manpower. We needed a program to home grow and retain our talent and it makes sense for the Rockford community to pool our resources and solve this problem in a collaborative way.” One of their strategies was to develop an “Aerospace Talent Pipeline” to provide qualified replacement and future workers for the local and growing aerospace companies.

Joint Institute of Engineering & Technology, Aerospace (JiET-A)

RAEDC and RAAN collaborated and created the JiET-A to develop and support the “Aerospace Talent Pipeline.” Eric Voyles, vice president for National Business Development at RAEDC says, “As more and more businesses are looking to relocate to Rockford, they are asking about the number of skilled workers in the area. That is why programs like JiET-A are crucial to developing our most important capital – our young people. Programs like JiET-A will bring dividends for them, their employers, and the community as a whole.”

Bill Kroll, a chief engineer at UTC Aerospace Systems and executive director of JiET-A, has coordinated pipeline construction and operations since before JiET-A’s official launch in June 2012, working with four colleges and universities and several recruiting and aviation companies for internships and mentorships. According to Kroll, graduating students from local school districts can build a development path with Rock Valley College, Northern Illinois University, Rockford College, or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and will participate in high-quality internships that are integrated into their academic curricula.

This program is robust enough to develop graduates with advanced degrees in math and science, undergraduate degrees in engineering, certified assemblers, machinists, welders, avionics and A&P technicians, heat treating specialists, and so on. The JiET-A graduates will bring these valuable skills and experience into the regional aerospace workforce.  Started in September 2012, they have had 117 engineering applicants, 81 students accepted, with 20 in internships at local companies and two hired as full-time employees at UTC Aerospace Systems.

One of the program graduates, mechanical engineer Carly Norton, agreed to talk about her experience with the JiET-A program. Asked how she learned about the program and was the mentorship and internship helpful in getting her a job, she replies, “I learned about the JiET-A program while attending a career fair at Northern Illinois University. Through discussions with Bill Kroll I learned that the JiET-A program matched my career goals and provided the flexibility to meet my existing schedule and commitments.

"The internship that Bill set up for me was vital to getting hired at UTC Aerospace Systems. Before that I didn’t know about all the aviation opportunities that I had in the Rockford area and thought I would have to move east or west for a career in aviation. My mentors were my advocates and helped promote my career within the company. The JiET-A program internship provides practical work experience. Now I am working on test equipment and actual aircraft systems and components. My full-time position is going to be designing aircraft actuation systems for different types of aircraft.”

Aircraft Maintenance Technology requested that she remember aircraft maintainers when designing these systems. “I was already thinking about that and certainly understand ease of access and maintainability because I have practical experience working on my Jeep Wrangler compared to working on my Mom’s late-model Camry.” 

According to Jeff Kaney and Bill Kroll, JiET-A is a huge success and the pipeline is filling with local talent. Congratulations and don’t let up because local companies are expanding and new companies are moving into the area. “In 2012, B/E Aerospace opened a new $4 million, 40,000-square-foot ecosystems assembly facility in Rockford and secured an exclusive contract with Boeing to manufacture modular lavatory systems for the 737 Next-Generation family of airplanes. Forest City Gear broke ground on an 8,000-square-foot expansion, launching a new business, adding jobs, and will supply gears for the NASA Mars Rover: Curiosity project. In May 2013, Woodward broke ground on a $300 million, 440,000-square-foot second campus for its aircraft turbine systems business bringing in nearly 1,500 jobs.” In the Rockford MSA, business is thriving and thanks to JiET-A, so is the output of qualified aerospace workers.

For more information: WWW/JiET.Aero  (Note: Web site undergoing maintenance); Email: [email protected]. Jeri Dedrick is the student coordinator for JiET-A and her phone number is (815) 969-4269.

Field Editor Charles Chandler has a Masters of Science Degree in Adult and Occupational Education with a major in Human Resources Development. He began his aviation career as a junior mechanic for American Airlines and retired after 27 years of service. After leaving American he held both line and staff positions in six other major companies. His positions with those companies included curriculum development specialist, manager and director for organizational development, management and leadership development, and maintenance training operations departments.