No college, no future? Think again
By George Talbot
September 2013
...The expansion of the aerospace industry across the Gulf Coast is creating huge
demand for skilled production workers. Local business and educational leaders say
the future has never been brighter for students interested in aviation careers.
...“I tell all my incoming students: Aviation is not just a job, it’s a profession,” said Kyle
Cook, director of Mobile’s Alabama Aviation Center. “If you’re willing to work and get
the skills you need, it truly can take you above and beyond a lot of other jobs –
including a few that might surprise you.”
...Indeed, aviation-related jobs are lucrative, paying an average hourly wage of
$33.85, according to the Aerospace Industries Association.
...“I know several workers who are earning six-figure salaries,” said Cook. “The
number just goes up as you add skills and experience. And there’s always the
chance to move into management.”
...The arrival of an Airbus Americas final assembly line in Mobile has caused interest
in aviation jobs to surge along the Gulf Coast, according to Cook and other business
...The Europe-based company in April broke ground at the Brookley Aeroplex on its
first aircraft assembly line in North America. The plant will begin assembling A320
jetliners in 2015 from segments made elsewhere and shipped to Mobile. The $600
million project is expected to create about 1,000 full-time jobs by 2018, plus
thousands more at aircraft suppliers and parts manufacturers that already are setting
up shop here.
...“This is prime time for anybody looking to get a foot in this industry,” Cook said.
“Once you get that start, you can ride it all the way to retirement. And you can take it
anywhere you want to go – there are aircraft everywhere, so the opportunities really
are worldwide.”
...Cook has seen enrollment spike at the training center at Brookley. The center, part
of Enterprise State Community College, trains workers in avionics, aircraft
maintenance, composites and other related fields.
...He said about 275 students enrolled in the two-year program this fall, compared
with 244 in fall 2012 and 158 in 2011. The school also operates a dual-enrollment
program that allows high school students to get college credit for aviation training.
...“We are seeing record numbers on our Mobile campus,” Cook said.
...Meanwhile, progress continues on Alabama Industrial Development Training’s
Alabama Aviation Training Center adjacent to Airbus production site. The 35,600-
square-foot facility will be used primarily for fuselage assembly training specific to
...Airbus is the main attraction, but Cook said there are a wealth of job opportunities
at other area aerospace companies, such as ST Aerospace in Mobile, Northrop
Grumman in Moss Point, Miss., and Segers Aerospace in Fairhope, Ala.
...“Our only limitation for growth at the moment is the human element. What we don’t
have are enough skilled technicians,” said Bill Hafner, vice president of operations
for ST Aerospace in Mobile.
...Other companies like Safran Aerospace, Aeromark, UTC Aerospace (the former
Goodrich) and Kuenhe + Nagel are establishing operations here for the first time or
expanding what they already have.
...Those employers represent the fastest-growing segment of the job market, and
they also deliver a ripple effect. As Airbus and its supporters draw experienced
workers away from existing manufacturers, new opportunities are being created for
entry-level workers.
...The Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group recently released its third-
quarter forecast for Mobile County, and the expectation is for things to brighten the
rest of this year and beyond.
...“We’re seeing a lot of well-founded optimism in the manufacturing sector because
there have been some pretty significant investments poured into the area,” said
Mekael Teshome, economist for the southeastern region, according to the Mobile
...While aerospace is getting much of the attention, there are other production
activities that offer solid, well-compensated careers.
...Enrollment is surging at AIDT’s  Maritime Training Center in Mobile. Lee Hammett,
the AIDT’s assistant director for south Alabama, said the strong hiring trend is being
led by Austal USA, which operates a shipyard in Mobile, but it also includes shipyards
across the Gulf Coast, including Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi.
...“We had 100 percent placement from our last class,” Hammett said.
...That’s food for thought for parents who think they should encourage their children
to go to college. The average student loan debt for college grads in 2013 was
$35,200, according to a Fidelity survey. That amount goes up dramatically for
students who go into career fields that require more than four years of
postsecondary education.
...But training to enter the production workforce doesn’t cost anywhere near that.
Cook said students just need to know that a relatively small investment in tuition and
time can pay big benefits.
...The future for manufacturing in the United States looks bright. A recent study by
the Boston Consulting Group shows the United States is becoming one of the lowest-
cost countries for manufacturing in the developed world. Average production costs in
Germany, Japan, France, Italy and the U.K. will be 8 to 18 percent higher than in the
U.S. by 2015. The study claims that by 2020 between 2.5 million and 5 million
American factory and service jobs could be created.
...Mobile and the surrounding region are likely to capture some of the jobs as part of
the global trend.
...For now, the momentum is clearly with aviation. That’s led local educators to begin
rethinking traditional training programs in an effort to meet the projected demand.
...Larry Mouton, executive director of career and technical education for Mobile
County Public Schools, said the shift to aviation and aerospace requires a different
mindset than the Gulf Coast has traditionally taken.
...“We have a huge shipbuilding industry here, and that’s fantastic, and it’s created a
lot of jobs for a lot of people over the years, but we have to think about aviation in an
entirely different way because it’s an entirely different way of doing business,”
Mouton said.
...Others said an aging workforce – the average aerospace production worker is 55 –
will create demand for new workers in the coming years.
...Roger Wehner, executive director of the Mobile Airport Authority, said the region
must balance the short-term challenge of getting Airbus up and running while not
losing focus on the long-term challenge of creating a new vision for Brookley.
...“You have to keep in mind that Airbus is great, but we have other great companies
as well, and this is an opportunity to work in concert with all of our partners to build
something special,” Wehner said. “That doesn't come without planning that really
needs to start now.”
Underwritten in part by:
Aerospace Quarterly
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