Thirty-four students have graduated from the Aircraft Structures Training Program founded in part by the West Virginia-based aviation employment services company HQ Aero Management (US), which is exhibiting here at Booth No. 3530. HQ Aero entered into a partnership with Workforce West Virginia and local aviation companies to create the eight-week training program at Pierpont Community and Technical College in Fairmont, W.Va. in 2013. The fourth class of 12 students will graduate in March.
“The program has been a huge success,” said Ronald Eagle, vice president of U.S. operations at HQ Aero. “The graduation rate has been incredibly high and students praise the skills they are learning. This is a skill set that they can build on and progress into. We’re definitely building a stronger workforce.”
Offered at no cost to students, the certificate program provides entry-level training in fundamental aircraft structures fabrication and repair concepts, including assembly tools, blueprint reading, fastener pattern layouts, solid rivet installation and fastener installation. Currently two companies located in the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex at the North Central West Virginia Airport are employing the majority of the program graduates: Bombardier Aircraft Services and Pratt & Whitney Engine Services. Two other companies–Lockheed Martin and Aurora Flight Sciences–are also considering employing program graduates in the near future.
“Some companies don’t have a specific requirement for the aircraft structures skills, but they are looking for graduates that have basic aircraft build knowledge,” said Eagle. “Even though graduates understand the structures portion coming out of the class, they won’t necessarily use these skills on the job, but they are still involved in an aircraft application.”
Located in the heart of West Virginia’s coal mining, oil and gas industries, the aviation-based training program provides a way for laid-off workers to gain new skills and start new careers. For some, it’s a difficult choice to go back to school for two months and expect a pay cut upon graduation, and the program has lost a few students and graduates who have been called back to former jobs in the coal mines. o
“With seniority, some of the workers have built up to $18 per hour in oil and gas. As a structures apprentice they start out at about $14 per hour,” said Eagle. “This is someone who is training side-by-side with a structures technician and still is on the OJT status. They will have the opportunity to make good money in aviation if they stick with it, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Still, the program has been so successful placing skilled employees at local aviation companies that the Veteran’s Administration has approached Eagle to create an aircraft structures training class dedicated to training disabled veterans. While the dates still haven’t been solidified, Eagle says they are planning to hold the disabled veteran-specific class this summer. All program graduates can also use the aircraft structures training as part of their requirements toward the FAA A&P mechanic certificate.
HQ Aero offers nationwide recruitment services to the aviation industry, providing contract and direct placement of aviation technicians. Employing between 150 and 200 contract aviation technicians at any given time, HQ Aero became involved in the program first to provide guidance in terms of the skills requested by HQ Aero clients when looking for skilled aircraft structures technicians, and then as an employer for those workers.