By A. Lee Graham
Though an aviation learning center proposed for Fort Worth Alliance Airport is on hold – at least for now – officials continue promoting the concept as future demand for industry employees is expected to surge.
“It is critical that we focus on education across the whole spectrum,” said Michael Morris, director of transportation with the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Speaking at the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition’s Mar. 6 monthly meeting in Fort Worth, Morris praised area universities and high schools for forging partnerships intended to inspire and educate high school students to pursue employment in the aviation industry.
The region’s investment in the industry is deep, with North Texas home to more than 300 aerospace and aviation employers.
V-22 photo courtesy of Bell Helicopter
They pack a collective $21.5 billion economic impact to the area, according to the Texas Aerospace and Aviation Industry Report, from the Office of Gov. Rick Perry’s Economic Development and Tourism division.
The Dallas-Fort Worth area alone boasts 4.8 times the national average of aircraft manufacturing jobs, 3.7 times the national average of aircraft parts and equipment manufacturing jobs, and 3.1 times the national average of air transportation jobs, according to the report.
Between 2010 and 2020 the region would need 4,280 mechanics and technicians, a 17-percent growth; 2,080 pilots and flight crew members, 21 percent more; 1,230 aircraft assemblers, 36 percent; 790 aerospace engineers, 11 percent; and 230 air traffic controllers, 16 percent, according to a report from the Texas Workforce Commission.
With Lockheed Martin Corp., Bell Helicopter and American Airlines just a few of several industry giants calling the area home, new workers will be needed as existing employees retire.
“Bell Helicopter is always looking for talented employees that bring new ideas and skills to our organization,” said Sara Monger, a spokeswoman for Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter, a division of Textron Inc.
The company cited the need for specialized machine operators, machine planners and mechanics with specific skill sets.
“These skills are difficult to come by in Texas, and we could benefit from increased training and promotion of these skills within the Texas post-secondary school systems,” Monger said.
Realizing that reality, the North Central Texas Council of Governments launched the North Texas Aviation Education Initiative, dedicated to promoting aviation as a career option for high school students and others.
“This isn’t a one size, fits all,” said Morris, emphasizing that not all employers seek candidates with four-year college degrees.
Tom Harris agrees. Before becoming president of Alliance Aviation Services late last year, Harris served as senior vice president of operations with Hillwood, which developed the AllianceTexas development in far North Fort Worth. In that capacity, Harris worked with the development’s tenant companies, many of which leased at the location, in part, because of the area’s aviation workforce.
“We need kids that are coming out of two-year programs, out of certification programs, out of licensing programs, almost as much as we need kids out of four-year programs,” Harris said.
Harris said that some companies already struggle to fill some positions.
“That drove us to see how to create an environment where we could help companies in those industries do a better job in filling jobs as they become available,” Harris said.
That led the Tarrant County College District to consider an aviation learning center on district property at Fort Worth Alliance Airport. Hillwood last year made a financing offer to develop and build the facility, which the school would run and maintain.
But budgetary restrictions led the district board to at postpone the idea at least a year. Though the district already offers aviation education at its Northwest campus, the proposed Alliance Learning Center would double the size of its current aviation program while adding a pilot-training program, a logistics associate degree and composite materials training programs.
Graduates of its aviation education program have found work at American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and other airlines; FedEx, UPS and other air cargo carriers; Boeing Corp., Textron and other aircraft manufacturers; and General Electric Co., among other engine manufacturers.
Despite no dedicated learning center, TCC continues educating future aviation professional. Its associate of applied science degree in logistics and supply chain management, newly offered in fall 2012, allows graduates to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of North Texas, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Texas Christian University.
The schools are partners pursuing the same mission: preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce.
A University of North Texas at Denton professor shared that urgency.
“We have to be responsive with our curriculum,” said Terry Pohlen, an associate professor and director of the school’s Department of Marketing and Logistics. “We developed an aviation and logistics degree when this issue took prominence a few years ago.”
Ensuring that a campus dedicated solely to aviation and logistics education opens within the next few years has Harris and others determined to fulfill that goal.
“We’re continuing to find a way to get it done,” Harris said. “I think we have to make sure we create a funnel of graduates to supply the industry in Texas.”