As the aerospace manufacturing industry continues to face a skilled labor shortage, many schools, organizations, and employers across the country are implementing aerospace apprenticeship programs and educational initiatives to entice young people to explore new opportunities in the diverse field.
While the commercial pilot shortage has received significant media attention in recent years, the aerospace field as a whole is suffering from a dearth of skilled workers; aerospace technicians, engineering, maintenance, and production workers are all in short supply, even though aircraft production is booming. According to Aviation Week’s 2017 U.S. Workforce Study, there are more than 27,000 unfilled jobs in the industry.
The older generation of workers is either retired or reaching retirement age, but the younger generation isn’t jumping in to fill those spots. The need is acute: Boeing estimates that 120,000 new technicians will be needed in North America over the next two decades. And in the maintenance technician workforce, projections show that the number of people leaving will outpace the number of people coming in to fill the increasingly empty roles.
In the political sphere, the Aviation Maintenance Workforce Development Pilot Program, introduced in March, aims to address the worker shortage through the implementation of workforce initiatives such as student outreach, scholarship programs, career transitioning for veterans, and technical aviation education. Under this bill, $5 million in grant funding will be allocated to support program initiatives.
Collegiate Apprenticeship Opportunities
To close the skilled labor gap, a range of different education initiatives have cropped up in recent years, aimed at attracting young people to the field.
At El Camino College in Alondra Park, Los Angeles, for example, a $500,000 workforce grant will be used to create a new apprenticeship program in the aerospace sector. After making it through a very competitive selection process, El Camino was one of 11 colleges in the state chosen to participate in the California Apprenticeship Initiative program, which focuses on top and emerging industrial sectors that typically lack apprenticeship opportunities.
The college will offer the aerospace technician apprenticeship program through its Career Pathways initiative, a grant-funded office that creates innovative, for-credit programs for college students, secondary students, and members of the local community. Secondary and adult education schools, local employers, universities, and various community organizations work with the Career Pathways office to provide new opportunities in high-demand fields.
As part of El Camino's program, students will receive a combination of hands-on training opportunities and traditional classroom education. Using a curriculum developed by the Unilateral Apprenticeship Council, trade professionals will guide students through a comprehensive background on both practical and theoretical aspects of the field. Emphasis will be placed on “demand-driven skills attainment” in electronics, aircraft and spacecraft systems testing, and hardware fabrication and assembly. By the end of the program, students will not only earn credits toward a degree or certification, they’ll also get the invaluable, on-the-job experience they need to excel in a future role in the industry.
Key partners and employers involved in the grant include Ampaire, Inc.; California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC); Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII); Impresa Aerospace, LLC; L3 Technologies, Electron Devices; MAG Aerospace Industries, LLC; Magnetika, Inc.; MORF3D; Northrop Grumman Corporation; S&H Machine; South Bay Workforce Investment Board (SBWIB); Space Vector Corporation; and Verisurf Software, Inc.
As the aerospace manufacturing sector grapples with a growing skilled labor shortage, schools, community organizations, and industrial businesses will need to continue providing new opportunities to the younger generation. Apprenticeship programs like those offered through the California Apprenticeship Initiative will likely pave the way for the next generation of aerospace technicians, serving as an invaluable hands-on opportunity for those looking to enter the quickly evolving field.
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