“My main concern is that students have viable skills to enter the job market,” said José Luna, TPS Hispanic outreach coordinator. “The whole thing that you have to go to college to be a good candidate for the labor market is not necessarily true.”
Luna cites labor market statistics that show eight of ten in-demand jobs are in the career-tech area.
“That means that many kids can get a good, high-paying job, or start out at minimum and end up high (on a wage scale),” he said. “By minimum, I mean starting out at $40,000 a year with a career-tech position.”
Northwest Ohio is reflective of the entire country, where skilled tradespeople are in short supply, a fact that will only get worse as baby-boomers reach retirement age. Part of the reason for that is the decades-old push for kids to attend a four-year college. Luna stated the average age of an airplane mechanic is well into his 50’s.
“This guarantees kids coming out of there a job their entire life,” Luna said. “There’s a very real shortage of airplane mechanics. They’ll also receive a variety of other certifications through that program, including a hydraulics certification.”
The TPS Hispanic outreach coordinator stated that kids love to hear that the hydraulics certification qualifies them to work on rides at amusement parks such as Six Flags or Cedar Point.
While the free program is hosted by TPS, the Aviation Maintenance Technology Training Center is open to any high school student in Ohio. In addition to a high school diploma, students earn an FAA-issued Airframe and Powerplant Rating (A&P) License, 60 college credits and some students actually receive an Associate’s Degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology from Eastern New Mexico University upon high school graduation.
Despite being a high-school level training program, it also is an Federal Aviation Administration Part 147 Certified Aviation Maintenance Technician school.
TPS officials make no bones about how challenging the program can be. Promotional materials indicate students get countless hours of hands-on practical experience in addition to classroom instruction. Students design and construct sheet metal projects, learning the art of airframe construction and in-depth maintenance, inspections and repairs to actual flying aircraft.
Students learn about, disassemble, inspect, and rebuild numerous aircraft engines, both reciprocating and turbine. They learn about all the components and parts that make the engines run. And, once built, students put engines in test stands and run them. The TPS Aviation Center won the top prize in 2009 and 2010 at a nationwide competition of high school aviation centers.
Based on the forecasted volume of new aircraft deliveries, there will be an increase in demand for aircraft maintenance technicians (AMTs) worldwide. Adding in the demographics of the current AMT workforce in North America, instructors believe the AMT shortage may be approaching sooner than projected.
Luna stated that TPS only offered transportation to the Aviation Center for Bowsher High School students in the past, but will open up the transport from every TPS high school starting next academic year. That means students can still attend their home school and be eligible for the program at the Aviation Center. He’s hoping that will draw their attention to a career alternative.
“Usually when you talk to kids about careers, they mention the usual seven: doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, policeman, fireman, and professional athlete,” he said. “The odds of becoming a professional athlete are almost like winning the lottery. That’s not a realistic idea, but that’s what they see. My goal is to expose them to as many different professions as I can.”
Luna recently learned from Aviation Center officials that a recent graduate is now living in Europe and working for Boeing. The students who went on the tour are from Start, Woodward, and Waite high schools, which each have a heavy Latino student body.