Utah’s aerospace companies need qualified employees now, so industry leaders met with education and government leaders to create a training fast track. The result is the Utah Aerospace Pathways program, which gives high school students the opportunity to earn an aerospace manufacturing certificate.
“They’ll move through training programs in both the school district and at a college campus, with the intention to move them straight into jobs as they’re completing high school,” said Melanie Hall, director of community relations at Davis Applied Technology College.
Many of those jobs will be with the partners that advocated for the program: Boeing, Harris, Hexcel, Hill Air Force Base, Janicki Industries and Orbital ATK.
“There are hundreds of jobs open in the industry right now, and they just want to create a really skilled pipeline of workers,” said Hall.
The program, announced Sept. 4 at a FedEx facility in Salt Lake City, will be piloted in the Davis and Granite school districts, working with DATC and Salt Lake Community College.
During the first semester of their senior year, students selected for the program will spend 60 hours in high school classes aligned with the aerospace manufacturing certificate. The second semester features 48 hours of focused learning at an applied technology college.
“They come here as part of our regular composites program, tuition-free,” said Ginger Chinn, director of Employer Development and Continuing Education at DATC.
A 48-hour paid internship is also part of the program.
High school students can already earn a certificate in composites at DATC, which is in demand in the aerospace industry, but Hall said the new program comes with a benefit.
“This is kind of queueing them into positions, and is as close to a guaranteed hire as you can get,” she said.
Boeing got things started, according to Chinn, and soon everyone else was onboard.
“These industries and companies would normally be competing against each other for these workers,” said Hall, but the need is too great.
“This is a growth industry, so it’s not just filling a short-term need — this is planning for long-term growth,” she said. “They know the direction they want to go, and part of the reason they initiated this program is they know they need to have those skilled workers five years down the road, 10 years down the road, and 20 years down the road. If they’re initiating this five years later, they’re in trouble.”
Clint Devitt, general manager of Janicki Industries in Layton, said the program is a great opportunity.
“We’re saying, ‘Let’s try to work together to fill that pipeline, and set a standard level of expectations across all businesses, that will help us not rob and steal from each other in the future,’ ” said Davitt, referring to the current shortage that has companies poaching employees from competitors.
The program isn’t going to just help aerospace companies.
“We believe it really offers a lot of additional avenues for young people who are confused about what they want to do,” said Devitt, noting that aerospace businesses are going to be offering field trips and internships and other experiences through the program. “I think they’ll recognize they have some great opportunities.”
The majority of jobs in the aerospace field are for production technicians, according to Wes Hobbs, composites instructor at DATC. Those who earn the certificate will be creating parts for airplanes, repairing F-35s, or working as assemblers, machinists or inspectors.
Young people can make a great living, and have a solid career in manufacturing, without getting a higher education degree, Devitt said, adding that manufacturing isn’t what it used to be. “Our facilities are clean and bright, and employees really feel like they’re not just stamping out parts but contributing to something that’s going to fly.”
The Department of Workforce Services estimates that the starting wage for students who complete the program at more than $12 per hour.
“We currently have students starting at ATK and Harris at about $14 per hour,” said Wes Hobbs, composites instructor at DATC. “Hill Air Force Base has got a plastic fabricator position for $22 to $27 an hour right now.”
For those who want to go on to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related field, the aerospace manufacturing certificate is still worthwhile.
“Doing a skill certificate like this is only going to enhance the degree they go on to get,” Hall said.