Filling the aerospace pipeline
The aerospace industry is facing a crisis as the sector grows and the workforce
shrinks, and Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi are pressing forward to
ensure they have a healthy aviation pipeline that’s full at every point…
It was during the last Aerospace Alliance Summit in New Orleans in October 2017
that this publication first hatched the idea of developing a special edition focusing on
education and training that would be available in time for the 2018 summit at Point
With all the pluses this region has to offer, it all amounts to nothing if there are not
enough trained aerospace and aviation workers to fill the jobs that are available in
The specific summit event that prompted this issue was a well-attended meeting on
training and education. It was clear the issue mattered to all the participants, so much
so that the November 2018 summit has a half-day for the topic.
The Gulf Coast Reporters’ League set out research the efforts in the four states. We
wanted to quantify what’s available not only for the future workforce, but current
workers considering a career change.
In this issue you’ll find stories about aerospace education and training efforts in the
four states that are members of the Aerospace Alliance. We include a list of high
schools and post-secondary schools that offer aviation courses, along with ways to
get more information. We did not attempt to list facilities for pilot training, of which
there are many.
We also spoke to a handful of big aerospace companies to determine if they are
currently getting what they need, and to see if they have concerns for the future. The
answer is yes and yes. So far so good, but the future is a bit frightening thanks to a
retiring workforce and competition for talented workers.
Our hope is that a wide range of people, from parents to students and from workers
to educators, will find this newsletter a valuable tool.
The big takeaway is that all four states recognize the growth of aerospace and their
need not only to attract those operations, but to ensure they have the workforce able
to handle the jobs now and in the future, whether it’s a mechanic keeping planes
flying or engineers designing new systems.
The common threads:
-- There’s an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)
courses to prepare students for a technological world, and all four have been
expanding aerospace training.
-- Each tries to reach students at an earlier age to ensure they understand the
opportunities for high-paying jobs, no small feat in a world where kids have so many
distractions. Sports, socializing and having fun have their attention, the future, not so
-- Each has organizations in charge of establishing training programs to meet the
needs of companies, with local needs determining the courses.
-- Each has universities offering degrees in aerospace fields, and community
colleges offering aviation courses for entry-level, skilled technical jobs.
-- They all have high school courses in aviation, as well as dual enrollment programs.
Embry-Riddle is involved in training in all four states.
The difference is a matter of degrees.
Mississippi, for example, has just one university offering a degree in aerospace.
Alabama has four. And while Embry-Riddle is involved in all four states, its biggest
presence by far is in Florida, not surprising since Florida has the largest number of
schools with aviation-focused courses.
But that’s all a result of the size of its aerospace footprint and the location of aviation
operations. Because all four say local employment needs determine training courses,
the lack of an aviation company in a particular area means it won’t have aviation-
related training. And if there is no aviation-trained workers, it’s harder to land an
There are also major differences in the magnets each state has to offer and the
training that results. Federal aviation operations, like military bases and NASA
operations, leads to the creation of education and training courses designed to fill
their needs. It can also be supercharged by the presence of a major aerospace
company. Airbus’ decision to set up shop in Mobile to build the A320 series of
jetliners spurred development of more education and training options. That, in turn,
played a role in the decision to develop a second assembly line for the A220 jetliner
The states in brief
Alabama: A state already known for its aerospace activities in Huntsville and Mobile,
Alabama is making a big push to get students involved in STEM training while
schools and job training continues to expand for aerospace and aviation.
The state has what one official calls a secret weapon: Alabama Industrial
Development and Training. It works with new and existing industries to meet their
employment needs, whether aviation or another sector.
Local needs dictate training programs, and at least one education official says local
companies need to get involved with public schools to ensure their employment
needs are being met.
Three universities offer advanced aerospace degrees for higher-level jobs and three
community colleges offer aviation-focused training for high-skill, entry-level jobs.
Dual enrollment programs are available, and while enrollment today is fairly small, it’s
The state is trying to reach students at an earlier age through places like the
Alabama Space and Rocket Center and soon Flight Works Alabama, where nine
colleges, including Embry-Riddle, are involved. As part of the STEM effort, robotics
training begins in sixth grade and in some cases, even earlier.
For details, see page 2.
Florida: The state is best-known for the historic Space Coast and military aviation
activities, and consistently ranks in the top 5 states for aerospace employment.
Educators, government officials and commercial leaders have embarked on a
concerted effort like never before to ensure Florida remains a leader in the
aerospace industry through training a new generation of workers.
The state’s universities rank among the nation’s top producers of STEM graduates.
For the fourth consecutive year, the University of Central Florida supplied more
graduates to aerospace and defense companies than any other college in the
Community colleges and high schools offer aviation-focused training. Embry-Riddle
has programs in 88 high schools in the state.
Gaetz Aerospace Institute, created by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and
state officials to increase participation among high school students in both aerospace
and STEM classes.
New high school and college programs are being launched to meet the needs of
newly arrived companies, like ST Engineering Aerospace at the Pensacola
For details, see page 6.
Louisiana: For a state that has a key NASA facility that builds space structures, a
major military base and a growing MRO sector, Louisiana is actually a late comer to
putting a focus on aerospace.
The biggest problem is the state did not put an emphasis on jobs in the aerospace
industry. But today aviation is viewed as one of nine sectors with the greatest chance
It wasn’t until more recently that the state began efforts to build an aviation pipeline,
and Mississippi is having trouble filling the pipeline.
Pathways have been set up so high school students can dual enroll at local technical
colleges, allowing them to work on certification while they earn a high school diploma.
One of the key organizations behind boosting the training pipline is FastStart, a
workforce training program operated through Louisiana Economic Development.
Tailored programs have been set up to address local needs. In Shreveport, Southern
University now has programs for airframe and powerplant technician jobs, and in
Chalmette, Nunez Community College has a new two-year program to prepare
students for careers in space technology.
There are now four FAA certified programs in the state that teach students about
aircraft structures and system and the engines that power them.
For details, see page 13.
Mississippi: With a major NASA facility, a helicopter plant and a university known for
its engineering program, Mississippi has a large footprint in the industry.
Seven colleges have programs for aerospace and aviation studies, including an
aerospace engineering program at Mississippi State University.
Fifteen high schools have JROTC programs that give students a foundation for
aerospace studies. But other than that, public schools do not offer aviation-specific
courses. However, schools have STEM programs that can translate into jobs in
aerospace and aviation.
STEM is part of the state’s 100 Career Technical Education centers. In addition, WIN
Job Centers work with industries statewide to assess applicants and provide pre-
employment training and customized workforce training.
The state also has the Mississippi Works Fund, established in 2016, providing $50
million over the next 10 years to community colleges for workforce training.
Stennis Space Center’s Astro Camp can reach children as young as second grade,
and the state’s robotics program and the activities at Infinity Science Center also
appeal to youth.
For details, see page 16.
Showing it’s cool
Importantly, each state faces the same overriding concern facing everyone in the
aerospace industry: the number of jobs is growing and the pool of talent is not
No matter how much emphasis is placed on creating training pipelines, it’s useless
without student interest.
That was brought up in September during the Federal Aviation Administration
Workforce Symposium. The gathering attracted participants from across the
aerospace spectrum and the message was clear: The industry needs more people in
the training pipeline.
George Novak of the National Air Carriers Association called the shortage an “acute
and chronic crisis” in need of immediate and long term solutions.
“Our members don’t have enough mechanics or pilots to provide all the services they
want. They are turning down business now,” he said.
Marty Lenss, vice chair of the Air Services Committee of American Association of
Airport Executives, said the shortage is hitting the market today and hurting the
economic development efforts of communities.
Frank Slazer of the Aerospace Industries Association said the industry is not tapping
into the full diversity of America. The percentage of women and non-whites is not
reflected in the makeup of the industry. With 47 percent of the aerospace workforce
close to retirement, a key is reaching out to youth in the sixth to eighth grades.
With so many industries competing for talent, there must be a better effort to show
youth that a career in aerospace is “cool.” Part of the problem is that the industry,
unlike the communications industry, doesn’t come up with a new product every year
or two, so it’s not seen as a creative environment.
Much of the symposium talk was about the growing shortage of pilots. But one
speaker said it was a great forum for raising another issue impacting the industry
now and in the future.
Brett Levanto of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association said that the entire
industry also knows “about the challenges in finding technicians to come in and keep
aircraft airworthy … Without good people on the ground, the pilots and passengers
and cargo are not going anywhere.” Looking just at maintenance, there will be fewer
technicians than the market demands by 2020, and by 2027 the market will be 9
percent short of what it needs.
“We are on the playing field with every other industry that demands technical skills,”
Levanto said. “The industry needs a healthy pipeline that’s full at every point.”
Levanto said it’s a cultural problem.
“If you have kids, or if you have friends who have kids, particularly if they’re not yet
working adults, perform this exercise for me. This is your homework. Ask what they
think about their kids becoming an aircraft mechanic,” he said.
They would probably be very polite, say they know it’s an important job, but they
would rather their children go to Dartmouth and be on the crew team for four years,
The four states can improve their lot by addressing this underlying “interest”
problem. Double-down on outreach programs, point out the cool factors, ease the
financial burden of training, and create apprentice programs.
That might help fill the pipeline.
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