Industry Educational Resources Reaching Millions, Serious Education Reform Needed

15 Minute Read

  • Industry Still Inventing the Same Wheel Despite Need to Amplify What’s Already There
  • Manufacturing Career Education Boosted by State/Industry Efforts
  • Aviation/Aerospace Education Provides Economic Mobility, Transforms Families
  • Academia Questions How to Keep Up with Changing Technology
  • Education Delivery Must Be Different
  • Lifelong Continuing Education Needed
  • Aviation/Aerospace Career Promotion Still Needed

By Kathryn B. Creedy

Watching the hand wringing as the aviation/aerospace industry decries workforce shortages, one would think no aviation/aerospace career education programs exist.

Airlines for America says we need a Moon-Shot approach, “like Apollo in the 1960s.” Others call for the creation of a National Center for the Advancement of Aviation (NCAA), legislation for which was introduced last year.

Turns out, we don’t need any of those things because substantial progress has already been made in developing curriculum and creating free resources for Pre K-12 educators.

Wheel Already Invented

What few realize is educators, states, industry associations, manufacturers, aviation museums, corporations, aviation/aerospace technology corridors are way ahead of them, having already developed sophisticated curricula and workforce development programs that have exposed millions to manufacturing and aviation/aerospace careers.

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There are scores of educational programs, at the K-12, high school and college levels with much available free online. In fact, early-childhood aviation education is supported by a Rutgers study showing aviation-related education improves executive functions in pre-K, indicating it is never too early to start recruiting coming generations.

In addition, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) offers a roster of free, for-credit online courses for students in Arizona and Florida. In partnership with Women in Aviation, it offers self-paced Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) tailored to students ages 8-17.

Resource List Available

Christa McAuliffe First Educator in Space. Credit: NASA

To help educators learn about these resources, Future Aviation/Aerospace Workforce News (FA/AW News) recently published Education Resources for Aviation/Aerospace, a continuously updated list of aviation/aerospace education programs – many free – and corporate workforce development efforts. It was astonished at how many there are. The list is designed to connect the dots between educators, aviation/aerospace education programs and corporate workforce development programs and vice versa. We all need to be talking to and investing in each other to meet our future needs.

A troubling insight though is the fact, despite the number of programs available, industry continues to reinvent this wheel and we must question whether efforts by individual associations who want to do their own thing should be funneling their resources into collaborating instead. Instead of creating a new program, perhaps these organizations should be amplifying existing aviation/aerospace programs by promoting them to their vast memberships.

Bonus Report: How Poor Schools Can Tap Aviation/Aerospace Resources

Industry workforce development programs such as those created by AAR Corp, Embraer, Airbus, Boeing and such manufacturing coalitions as the Aerospace Components Manufacturers (ACM) make it clear this is a wheel that has already been invented in many iterations addressing the needs of different segments of the industry.

Home to a booming business in commercial and military aerospace and submarine manufacturing, ACM’s Connecticut base is typical. More than 13,600 manufacturing workers are needed to fill manufacturing positions in robotics, 3D printing and other high-tech work to interest students in manufacturing, according to ACM Executive Director Paul Murphy. Nearby New Hampshire needs to fill 17,000 jobs.

Working with the Connecticut Department of Education, ACM created eight advance manufacturing educational programs including computer-assisted design and drafting and serves about 2,100 students in high schools in 41 districts.

Those efforts have been replicated in many states while communities have set up Manufacturing Days or programs to promote manufacturing careers. The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program offers a five-week program resulting in a national credential from Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) and leads to apprenticeships set up with the state’s Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

“We’ve learned the hard way that we can’t live on the service industry alone,” John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) instrumental in the workforce effort, said. “We have to have manufacturing.”

Manufacturing is a key focus given the more than 600,000 jobs remaining open in the manufacturing sector alone. Manufacturing programs, in aviation’s version of farm-to-table education, invite students and parents to discover their production lines where they learn how high-tech they are compared to the old, industrial image defining traditional blue-collar work.

Industry is right that we need a larger effort but shortsighted in its goals. We need an international effort, creating a one-stop shop to link aviation/aerospace companies, manufacturing and education. It is also right we need to keep promoting career paths.

AOPA, EAA Lead the Way

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) created its five-year-old You Can Fly High School Initiative, a free program funded by the AOPA Foundation, which is now in more than 200 school districts, 400 classrooms in 38 states nationwide.

Credit: Flight Schools Association of North America

Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) recently launched AeroEducate, its newest youth aviation initiative, bringing an interactive, educational and engaging experience to young people ages 5 to 18. Its new program complements Young Eagles, launched in 1992, providing free introductory flights to 8- to 18-year-olds to introduce them to the world of aviation. Sponsored by Sporty’s Foundation, it has reached 2.2 million young people over 28 years. With a chapter in practically every state, more than 75,000 young people have taken the next step in their aviation journeys by enrolling in its online course following their flights, said the organization.

Interestingly, the Aviation Community Foundation (ACF), a group of passionate pilots, entrepreneurs and educators, identified what such programs lacked after visiting over 30 programs – educating the educators.

“Traditionally, our assistance has mainly stemmed from hosting biannual, collaborative Elevate Workshops, but, with the ‘Educate Our Educators’ Grant, we can foster even more educational and professional development opportunities for these very deserving leaders,” said Executive Director Jamie Helander. Similarly, University Aviation Association, American Institute or Astronuatics and Aeronautics (AIAA), Space Center Houston and AOPA hold annual educator meetings or academies.

Curriculum

While ACM has its own curriculum syllabus, Aerospace Industries Association, (AIA) not only has aviation/aerospace curriculum it offers grants to purchase of STEM-type materials and projects. Estes Industry also has lesson plans and works with others including the National Association of Rocketry for the National Rocketry Challenge for teens. On the international front, similar efforts have long included the internships and apprenticeships US industry only recently embraced.

Credit: American Rocketry Challenge

More than half a million apprentices are registered with the Department of Labor. There are also potentially up to a million apprentices in non-registered programs. Registered program graduates are certificated as journey workers and recognized by industry.

The problem is the number of applicants far outweigh apprenticeships available. Duncan Aviation established its own apprenticeship program while Lufthansa Technik has long had such programs, including 200 positions during pandemic.

Raytheon and Northrop Grumman are part of public-private partnerships established with universities to grow talent like cybersecurity specialists through regional workforce projects coordinated by Business Higher Education Forum. There is also the Real-World Design Challenge, a high school STEM competition promoting engineering design.

Southwest Airlines illustrates the success of the many airline/school outreach programs. Southwest’s Campus Reach Program, partnering with CFES Brilliant Pathways, exposes students to a wide variety of high-paying airline industry jobs. Southwest noted millions of jobs will go unfilled by 2027.

It has worked in 1,500 urban and rural schools across the U.S. and Ireland. Annually, it reaches 25,000 K-12 students with a team of professional educators, administrators, corporate leaders and non-profit experts. It uses Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), a seven-year, federal grant-funded partnership program reaching multiple grade levels.

Recruiting New Demographics

More importantly, many of the education programs are targeted at under-represented communities which meet business demands for more diversity and inclusion which is good for the bottom line. Companies know, without such programs, industry will never reach its workforce goals.

A recent Atlantic article discussed the need to actively recruit and enroll low-income students by going into their communities and demystifying education and what it can deliver for them. It also discusses the resources needed for success including personal attention and remedial education, generous financial aid packages and industry mentors from similar backgrounds.

Credit: Ameircan Rocketry Challenge

Perhaps the best organization to help the industry in its diversity goals is the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals which not only has numerous programs to attract kids to aviation/aerospace and nurture them through to realization of careers, but a series of discussions called Courageous Conversations to help companies understand the challenge.

Least understood as we incorporate new demographics, is the fact these jobs will lead to a post-war-like economic boom growing the middle class, similar to what Asian and other developing regions have experienced. A perfect example of the economic mobility resulting from aviation/aerospace education was eloquently demonstrated by Vaughn College of Aeronautics & Technology President Dr. Sharon DeVivo in testimony before Congress.

“The average family income for a Vaughn student is about $39,000,” she told legislators. “Within one year of graduation 99% of those students are employed or continuing their education; 83% in their field… In a 2017 a study done by the Equality of Opportunity Project, looked at more than 2,100 institutions that were the best at moving students from the bottom 40% in income to the top and Vaughn was number one in the country. That is evidence of the transformation possible…We don’t just change that student’s life we change the whole family’s trajectory.”

Helping Rural Communities

The importance of all these programs – especially for rural states – cannot be underestimated given the fact they send their best and brightest away to college resulting in a permanent brain drain, stymying state ability to compete for companies wanting to relocate, completing the downward spiral deeper into poverty.

States need alternatives to traditional jobs that have undergone decades of declines and technical education is the way to get that with short-term and micro-training programs. This would help in recruiting companies looking for a lower cost of doing business. There is no greater example of what can be done than Pittsburgh, PA, and its steel-to-clean-energy-and-technology transformation.

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For their part, Raytheon Technologies, Collins Aerospace, Airbus, Embraer, AAR Corp, OneWeb, Boeing, Textron, GE Aviation are leading the creation of new community education programs and air camps to strengthen pipelines to their manufacturing operations. Raytheon Technologies, GE and Collins Aerospace have developed programs – including grants – to support schools in developing programs in flight data analytics, coding, cybersecurity and additive manufacturing. (See their programs in the Educators Resources for Aviation/Aerospace Guide)

Learning Passport

Education does not stop with kids. Many are already developing programs to attract adults and point to military-to-civilian career programs. They also want to address mid-career adults laid off or who seek new careers.

They say it is finally time to create the reskilling and upskilling programs that gives industry what it really needs – a lifelong learner who is always pivoting to meet the next technological challenge.

What is needed is federal support for such programs. In comparison to its government counterparts, the US has failed miserably in transitioning workers as workplaces changed over the last 30 years.

“The United States spends a paltry 0.1 percent of gross domestic product on active labor market policies, less than one-fifth the average of other developed nations,” according to Harvard Professor of Public Policy David Deming, writing in the New York Times. “The lack of federal dollars to states in the past few decades, meant the loss of state educational programs and the increase in for-profit college enrollments. This is unfortunate, because a recent review of more than 200 studies finds that job training has large, long-term effects on employment, especially during recessions.”

During the last recession, for-profit colleges did not help students, Deming said. Graduates had lower earnings, were less frequently employed and had greater student debt than similar students who attended public colleges. Outcomes were particularly poor in online institutions.

Indeed, A PBS News Hour report indicated nearly 40% of those pursuing four-year degrees and some 70% of community college students never earn a degree. Think of that in terms of the accumulated student debt and the under-employment.

Despite that Deming sees community college job training programs such as those developed with local businesses as more successful. These programs substantially increase participants’ earnings, and because tuition costs are relatively low, they typically provide a good return on public investment, he said.

Industry Requires Lifelong Continuing Ed

We need to recognize education is no longer one and done – college/grad school and then on-the-job training. Aviation/Aerospace education is now a lifelong continuing education job.

Experts say future education must deliver academic programs that address new technologies. And businesses must re-think professional development and extend it down to line workers.

Credit: ConvertKit via Upsplash

Future education may likely be very different, according to Author and Education Columnist Jeff Selingo, who writes on education for The New York Times.

“Higher education needs to reinvent itself for continual learning if it is going to remain relevant and expand opportunity for tens of millions of adults who find themselves unemployed in a fast-changing economy,” Selingo wrote recently, suggesting a greater focus on skills-building education. “To build such a continual learning system, colleges will need to work closely with employers to understand the specific skills needed in jobs open now or where there is expected to be job growth in the near future. Those skill sets could then be divided into smaller increments and aligned with short courses which would rework how education is delivered.”

Some have suggested creation of a Transcript for Life that not only includes military service, internships, apprenticeships but the competencies the person has mastered. The Interoperable Learning Record (ILR) would trade courses and majors for listing the specific skills that people have mastered as well as relevant life experiences accumulated.

“Short courses offer opportunities for colleges to create new kinds of micro-credentials, including certificates, that can help reduce friction in the job market in two key ways,” he said. “First, micro-credentials are a stronger signal to employers that an applicant has mastered a specific skill, particularly digital skills. Second, micro-credentials can stack on top of one another to eventually allow students to earn a traditional degree over time. Skills-based credentials focus attention in the right place: on what a job applicant can do rather than the degree they’ve earned or where they went to school. We should use the reshaped economy that will emerge from this crisis to let go of our allegiance to the traditional college degree as a signal of job preparedness. Skills — including soft skills, such as communication, problem solving and teamwork — should be the coin of the realm in hiring rather than majors or the name brand of a school.”

Broward College in Florida offers one promising model after developing industry certifications and combining them with internships and other work-based opportunities with local employers. Made possible by the US Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program, the government program was used to fund thousands of training efforts as part of the Great Recession stimulus programs.

Career & Tech Ed Solution

Career and Technical Education (CTE) could be part of Selingo’s education transformation since it often leads to certification. Indeed, one of the major problems has been the insistence on college-for-all. Instead, we need to create strategies combining work toward certification with corporate tuition benefits.

National Cancer Institute via Upsplash

Parents will not give up on college education for their children. But they are demanding new options. There is a rising call for CTE as decades of college orientation has led to a shortage in tradecraft personnel. 

These shortages and parent demand for new options may be why demand for CTE is rising with twice as many applicants as there is space available in some programs. Quite simply, they have higher job placement and, in some cases, premium pay rates compared to traditional education.

“We need to make sure parents are educated about what we can offer,” Manchester (NH) School of Technology Principal Karen Hannigan Machado told PBS in an article showing more work needs to be done with these programs. “They need to understand CTE is not for kids who are dummies, or don’t go to college. Every program here, we encourage kids to go to college or earn a certification.”

Indeed, CTE today is a strenuous mix of traditional academic, including advanced placement courses and job training.

“High-quality CTE, experts hope, will address many of these issues with retooled, up-to-date programs that help propel students to postsecondary education and, in the process, give them more in-state connections and prepare them not only for in-demand jobs but for the flexibility the future will require,” wrote PBS.

What used to be called Vocational Ed has not only been rebranded to Career and Tech Ed but is now part of a pipeline for local industries as high schools and community colleges offer programs preparing students to fill jobs available in their communities. These train-to-work programs have fewer jobs in local communities than students in programs, signaling corporations need to catch up with demand.

Corporations must also respond with robust college tuition benefit programs offering them right down to line workers. While this is already happening, businesses need to sell it as part of their recruiting packages to meet parent demands for a college education, especially for those in train-to-work programs.

Challenges Beyond the Pipeline

Academia is already thinking and acting on curriculum and regulatory changes needed to develop the workforce befitting the advances of the 21st Century. (See related story on the dramatic changes to aviation maintenance training resulting from a decades-long effort to reform aviation maintenance education.)

Professors worry about the difficulty in fitting new academic disciplines into the credit requirements for degrees and concluding it cannot without changing curriculum. Aviation maintenance training institutions have solved this with new regulations eliminating the hourly requirements in favor of competency-based training and metrics.

As the Aviation Technical Education Council (ATEC) which spearheaded maintenance training changes, learned, the creativity of aviation educational institutions has been stymied by antiquated federal regulations that have not changed since the advent of the jet age. Compounding this is the difficulty in getting regulators to see how these changes are necessary but do nothing to compromise safety. The question is whether what ATEC accomplished can be applied to higher education. (See related story on what ATEC was able to accomplish.)

Credit: Alex Knight via Upsplash

Academia also worries they must train tomorrow’s workforce for jobs we don’t even know about. In fact, the Institute for the Future estimates 85% of jobs today’s students will have by 2030 don’t exist yet. It’s 2018 study – Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 – is a clarion call to rethink education. 

Industry has long known about the disconnect between what academia teaches and what industry needs to put the workforce on the line without expensive training programs for areas that have not kept pace with technological changes. Indeed, that is what drove ATEC’s efforts.

This then requires collaboration of industry, government and academia to forge new regulations, new training procedures and new academic programs by combining high school, CTE, higher education and corporate workforce development programs to increase the pipeline.

Higher Ed Needs to Be Part of K-12

Dr. James Gregory, chair of the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State University, speaking during the NAA/NAHF webinar Aerospace Education: Inspiring the Workforce of Tomorrow, urged colleges to embed themselves into community colleges, high schools and elementary schools to not only attract kids to aviation/aerospace but keep them interested throughout their educational careers. He sees college students reaching back to teach their younger counterparts.

Randall Ohman, a former machinist and design engineer who is now a sixth grade STEM academy engineering teacher, agrees.

“I also recommend partnerships with manufacturers that make it easy and interesting for students to become engaged,” he told FA/AW News. “An example might be donating machinery and material to help teachers and the creation of manufacturing experiences for children. I’ve seen what the kids can do…it’s impressive. What’s more, they can’t get enough of it.”

FedEx B727 donated to Aviation High School in Queens Ny. Credit: Kathryn B. Creedy

Tools and materials are already a major concern for training programs like Aviation High School in Queens NY, which told FA/AW News, schools are sorely in need of modern equipment such as new generation engines and avionics to prepare their students to hit the ground running once hired.

We know that the emergence of advanced air mobility will severely test how we train and how we do business. Previously in FA/AW News, Emerging Technology Skills Gap Threatens Aviation Education, MRO discussed how maintenance will change and how education must accommodate these changes.

That is just one of dozens of issues needing to be addressed by new thinking and government/industry/education partnerships.

Conclusion

There is no question the aviation/aerospace education wheel has been invented and resources and funding are already there. There is also no question companies want to invest in education.

However, there is a glaring exception. No discussion of aviation/aerospace education would be complete without addressing the cost of pilot education, now hovering around $200,000+. Government, academia and industry must build a funding program and pressure is on to reform and streamline such training. Funding is one of the reasons why 80% of students do not complete their flight training, according to AOPA and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Airlines provide loans for their cadets in training and SkyBound, a professional pilot loan program developed by FMS Bank, shows banks are interested but more needs to be done.

Despite the progress, industry faces a towering task to make all the moving parts work together better. We still need to promote aviation/aerospace and manufacturing careers. We also need to connect the dots between already developed programs and workforce needs so we can amplify and expand them.

Published by Kathryn B. Creedy

Kathryn B. Creedy is a veteran aviation journalist and communications strategist. My byline has appeared in CNN Travel, The Points Guy, BBC Capital, Los Angeles Times, Forbes Online, The Washington Post, Flyer Talk, Business Traveler, Business Travel Executive, Afar, Flightglobal, Centre for Aviation, Aviation Week & Space Technology, Low Fare & Regional Airlines, Inflight, Business Airports International, Airports, Centerlines, Regional Gateway, Runway Girl Network and Metropolitan Airport News among others. In 2018, I was cited for the Sapphire Pegasus Business Aviation Award for her work as a business aviation journalist. Created four newsletters, including two web publications Author: Time Flies - The History of SkyWest Airlines. Consistently received bonuses or commendations throughout my career. Founded Commuter/Regional Airline News, building it to become the bible of the industry. Co-founded C/R Airline News International to cover Europe. Founding editor of Aviation Today's Daily Brief, VLJ Report. Founding Senior Analyst North America for Centre for Aviation and North American Editor for Low Fare & Regional Airlines and Inflight. Key Words: Aviation, travel, business jets, commercial, aircraft, airlines, publishing, public relations, corporate communications, media specialist,

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