Forum: reach out to industry’s next generation

 - June 2, 2009, 11:37 AM

The aerospace industry needs to make a concerted effort to attract young people to aviation careers, according to presenters at this year’s New Jersey State Aviation Conference, the theme of which was “Challenges in Aviation Education.”
The need to attract new talent becomes increasingly important as industry professionals age. “The whole aviation industry

is balanced on the head of a pin,” said Mike Stoddard, president of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition, which organized the May 1 event. “The people who made aviation what it is today are dying, retiring, and there is no replacement pool. Unless we start generating some interest in educating young people for the jobs that are available, for the sheer joy of flying, I don’t foresee anything but a bleak future for general aviation.”

While New Jersey employs more than 18,000 workers in the aviation industry, only the Teterboro School of Aeronautics, along with two small state programs at Mercer County Community College and County College of Morris, provide formal education programs.

Speakers at the conference, held at Newark Liberty International Airport, examined the many ways in which their agencies and organizations reach out to children and teenagers to educate them about possible jobs in the industry. Attendees ranging from FAA officials to college faculty to small airport administrators agreed that the industry must do more to promote itself in new and creative outreach programs. One such program is the nonprofit East Orange, N.J.-based Eagle Flight Squadron, which rewards exemplary inner-city high-school students with the chance to earn their private or recreational pilot certificate; FAA-sponsored aviation career education camps, which offer students an immersive environment at aviation educational facilities; and aviation career days.

Such projects require the commitment of current industry professionals, and speakers at last month’s event urged attendees to offer their time to such organizations to help encourage youth to consider aviation among their career options.

The luncheon speaker at the event was Dr. Tim Brady, dean of the college of aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, who described the university’s partnership program with neighboring school districts. Embry- Riddle offers the districts college-level aviation courses held in the high schools at cost. The university is also planning to offer an aviation doctorate program, expected to begin in January. The university is awaiting final accreditation for the program before it accepts its first candidates.