The Perfect Opportunity– It Begins in the Eight Grade
I hope the last article on the Perfect Storm shocked you a bit. But I also hope that you, like me, know that this is America, and once we identify a problem, we get together and solve it. My take is that to solve this “Perfect Storm,” we need to take a step up from discussing the problem in terms of pilot, technician, and cabin crew shortages and accept what it really is: an aerospace shortage. Make no mistake, the shortage of aviation professionals is a problem that can be solved and is being addressed in the states of Florida and Oklahoma, where partisan politics have been put aside, the aisle is being removed, and lawmakers are doing the right thing to promote aerospace for their state and our nation. The difference between what they are doing and my approach is I am elevating this problem from the states to a national scale. I’m proposing an interconnected national response that incorporates states and proposes federal grant opportunities, as well as a change in some federal laws. Together, let’s focus on the 2025 projected $430B aerospace market growing at 7% CAGR and meet the needs of this community market by combining, not compartmentalizing our resources.
We live in a world that divides people based on income, race, sex, and geography, and unfortunately the divide is getting deeper every day. There are so many underprivileged people who are looking for an opportunity to better their lives and their communities. As I mentioned in my previous blog “Perfect Storm,” the demand for aerospace professionals is skyrocketing across all domains, yet those taking technical courses are declining. So, how can we link demand with supply so that our nation’s needs, as well as the needs of our younger generation, are met?
When President John F. Kennedy said, “we choose to go to the Moon” in his 1962 speech at Rice University, the technology wasn’t there, the money wasn’t there, and the idea was so foreign that many didn’t think it was possible. But what President Kennedy did was set the stage for the Apollo missions and galvanize a nation such that seven years later, we put a man on the moon. We have a similar process now, with our return to the moon and the potential of using the moon as a launching point to go to Mars. Just imagine the technology needed to make this new endeavor happen, technology that will need to be supported by the engineers, technicians, operations staff, etc. Technology that is not available in any one state or university but is available through a combined effort from all our states and higher learning institutions. That’s the interconnected aspect. To connect and share what is already working, using the federal government in an oversight and support role.
Unfortunately, we are limited in what we can do in the near term because our systems are set, and the pipeline can’t be changed. Therefore, I am proposing an initial three-pronged approach to solve the long-term aspects of this “Perfect Storm.”
An approach that supports our middle school community (call it the eighth grade), supports our high school community, and an approach geared toward an experienced set of our population and businesses with emphasis on our veterans.
It Begins in the Eighth Grade!
I propose we start by incorporating aerospace training into all middle and high schools beginning in the eighth grade. Truthfully, I’ve received some respectable criticism on the eighth-grade aspect, and I appreciated it. My rationale for starting in the eighth grade follows:
- The eighth grade is when students decide to take math.
- The eighth grade is typically the last grade students have before the courses they take count toward their GPA, which is key to college entry.
- The eighth grade is the last real time to influence a student – it’s a game changer.
- My view is that eighth graders should be given the same focus as seniors graduating from college; there should be opportunity fairs held in every county of every state showing the vast opportunities in all fields.
One recommendation I heard from another professional is to incorporate aerospace training into the schools by hiring professional aerospace curriculum developers or using curriculum already approved by AOPA and other school districts. Once agreed to by the local school board and parents, these can be incorporated into the curriculum of the school.
High School Options
Another recommendation is to offer basic courses for airframe and power plants in high school, which can translate into college credit and an approved FAA certificate upon graduation. This is already being done in Florida at the George T. Baker high school in Miami, FL George T. Baker Aviation TC | Reaching New Heights (bakeraviationtechcollege.com). What’s required is support of the school board, the local airframe and power plant commercial operator who teaches the course, and obviously support and permission from the parents of the student. This could result in a high school student, after taking three years of power plant training in high school, going on to work for an airline as an apprentice after graduation. Imagine walking across the graduation stage at 18 with no debt to look forward to and a good job. What Florida is doing easily be replicated at Spartan School of Aeronautics in Oklahoma, Vaughn College in New York, and South Dakota State University in South Dakota.
The Roles of Governments,
The third prong; participation by our government, OEMs and contractors are key because their involvement does not add to the curriculum, it focuses more on the group of individuals out in the workforce, just maybe not in the aerospace field. As a side note, I’m a believer is less government and the more we can contract out to qualified providers the better.
One may think the role of OEM’s, contractors and the government is limited when it comes to supporting our aerospace professional shortage, but I beg to differ. Imagine if we could combine the work done by the local high schools to provide technical with OEM support to pay that high school intern a minimum wage during the summer. Imagine if that OEM could provide discarded airframes, powerplants and technical materiel for the airframe and powerplant school to use while teaching the students. There are so many things all of us can do without permission and without the government that can really make a dent in this shortage by taking responsibility and helping where we can. Given the OEM and contractors both benefit by having a larger pool of aerospace professionals to choose from, shouldn’t they bear a bit more responsibility?
When it comes to the government, I’ll keep it short. Bring back support for the flight training aspect of GI Bill. Allow veterans who have honorably served to have 90% of their flight training through the commercial certificate or all their maintenance and cabin crew training paid for.
- This was done for pilot training as part of the Vietnam veterans benefits until 1990, in which 90% of flight training in an approved part 141 school was paid for by the government. Given that the current cost of flight training from start to ATP is approaching $300,000, this would be a huge shot in the arm to the local state commercial pilot training community as well as the veteran who served honorably.
- For veterans choosing to be technicians or flight crew members, the VA should pay for all training.
- There should be federally mandated priority placement for veterans who are pilots, mechanics, and flight crew members transitioning into the airlines and those undertaking pilot training.
- Federally backed interest-free loans for students who are not veterans to be able to take engineering courses, if they work in the aerospace industry in an engineering role for ten years following graduation from college.
- Federally approved interest-free student loans for those nonveterans that will allow any applicant to be a pilot to have the same application criteria as someone using the money for any other four-year degree. In other words, level the playing field so applicants for pilot training can use the same funds as applicants for engineering, nursing, communications, etc.
- Tax credits for OEMs, airlines, and businesses that support the programs above.
- A state and federal focus on indigenous and Hub Zone locations for applicants regardless of their race, sex, etc. This would prioritize applicants living in those regions to be supported for the initiatives above. Should the infrastructure for supporting applicants in those regions not be available, OEMs and contractors who invest in needed infrastructure, should be given a federal tax credit and subsidy.
So, we return to the three-pronged approach. The prong that can be immediately addressed within a two-year period is clearly provided by our veteran community, not just the pilots but all who qualify. Honorably discharged veterans have a tremendous college benefit, so the challenge becomes, how do we work with them to steer them toward aerospace? The other two prongs, high school and the eighth grade, are our investment prongs. These will take time and resources, but the good news is that the resources are already in place, and what we need are the linkages.
Stay tuned for the next blog where we will go into more detail on how we can interconnect the great work already done and exponentially improve our aerospace recruitment.
My next writing will be more focused on near-term solutions.