As Oklahoma’s second-largest industry, aerospace offers an abundance of lucrative careers for people who have “the burning hot desire to fly or fix aircraft” and even for those who don’t, Geoff Camp, state director of aerospace and defense, said during a recent JR/Now webinar.
Journal Record Editor Joe Dowd led the discussion with industry experts.
Oklahoma ACES, led by Camp’s team, is a program with resources dedicated to growing the state’s aerospace industry. The industry’s economic impact in 2017 was about $44 billion, second only to energy at $62 billion, Camp said. The gap is expected to be in the single digits when the impacts are measured again next year.
“The industry is so vast in the state, it’s not just about mechanics and engineers,” Camp said. Or even the massive pilot shortage that has just one airline trying to hire 24,500 more pilots.
Aerospace companies and the military also need business majors, logisticians, software engineers, cybersecurity engineers and more.
“This industry has been built on the back of our stalwart strength, which is maintenance, repair and overhaul,” Camp said. “We really are a global powerhouse for maintenance, repair and overhaul.”
At the same time, the face of aerospace and defense is changing with Advanced Air Mobility, unmanned systems, additive technologies, autonomous technologies and high-propulsion technologies.
“We need to get ready for the next wave of aerospace. There’s a revolution in fact going on in aerospace,” Camp said.
Getting a workforce ready is the job of Oklahoma CareerTech, which offers airframe and powerplant courses that lead to Federal Aviation Administration aircraft technician certification, said Eddie Compton, aerospace/defense industry liaison at Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.
In addition to aircraft maintenance and technician training, CareerTech does a lot of STEM, pre-engineering and IT programs that feed into higher education in those career fields, Compton said. And it has up to 200 customized courses – ranging from eight hours to eight weeks – that can provide the specific workforce training companies need.
Workforce training took a big hit during COVID, so CareerTech and industry leaders spent the time preparing for the comeback. “We knew we were going to grow and needed to be ready,” Compton said.
CareerTech developed a series of three-minute videos highlighting the industry in government, the private sector, education and state organizations to get students as young as elementary-schoolers interested in the many career possibilities in aerospace.
Camp said all sectors are working together to make sure next-generation workforce is aware of, prepared for and excited about those jobs.
“Things are returning to normal for us. Our hangars are full in all our locations. We’re wanting to expand,” said Ryan Goertzen, vice president of workforce development at AAR Corp.
The global aerospace company headquartered in Chicago is the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul provider in the U.S. and has its oldest MRO organization at Will Rogers World Airport.
“The need for skilled technicians for us is tremendous,” Goertzen said. During the pandemic, the aviation industry saw a reduction of almost 98% of commercial air travel, but knew it would come back, he said. “Unfortunately the industry retired a lot of folks.”
AAR sees a lot of activity growth in Oklahoma “because you’ve got to go where the workforce is and wants to be,” Goertzen said. Taxes are low and the state’s CareerTech system is “second to none.”
The company developed the Eagle Career Pathway program – a tool educational institutions can use to help student, parents, teachers and counselors understand the many lucrative careers in aerospace.
Goertzen stressed, “This is a six-figure career path, you can stay in Oklahoma and you can do just about anything in the aerospace industry.”
Camp agreed. “We don’t necessarily have workforce problem. What we have is a marketing problem,” he said.
“There’s a million different branches on this tree,” Camp said. The aerospace industry offers “the ability to pilot your own story, your own destiny any which way you want … because there’s so much runway in this career path.”