Filling the aviation pipeline
Better education has long been urged for the region, and growth of the high-tech
aviation industry is getting a response


At the National Space Club Florida Committee meeting in Cape Canaveral in May,
Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello reiterated the call for a highly-trained workforce
across the state to support an influx of aerospace-related companies. He said if
Florida is not responsive, it will become the state’s “aerospace Achilles heel.”

The shortage is not just a Florida issue. That clarion call was heard loud and clear in
2011 during the first Aerospace Alliance Summit in Destin, Fla. During the meeting of
the four-state group, aerospace representatives called workforce training the key to
the growth of the region’s aviation footprint.

Educators are responding.

In Florida, Pensacola State College plans to build a $26 million STEM Center and
quickly ramp up its aerospace and aviation-related courses, certifications and degree
programs.

In Alabama, Enterprise State Community College has prepared airframe and
powerplant mechanics at the Alabama Aviation Training Center since 1976, and
recently developed a composites program.

In Mississippi, the education system turned to NASA employees at the John C.
Stennis Space Center to fashion a curriculum to prepare students to meet the
expansion in future aviation jobs. Recently, a study done for the Hancock County
Port and Harbor Commission urged development of an aerospace academy to serve
Hancock County and the rest of the state.

A skills gap exists, but workforce specialists are determined to get the pieces in place
to make Gulf Coast I-10 Corridor a world-class aerospace training area.

The tools are there. The states tied together by Interstate 10 boast world-class
research institutions and university programs, and the I-10 region itself has
vocational training centers, public and private schools, museums and education
centers dedicated to improving the knowledge of STEM from elementary-aged to
college-aged youth.

Shannon Ogletree, director of the Santa Rosa County Economic Development Office
in Milton, Fla., said a well-trained workforce and top-notch educational opportunities
is the No. 1 “want” by the businesses he recruits.

Gulf Coast institutions have bought into troubling national statistics showing that if
measures are not taken to enhance America’s math and science education, the
country’s ability to compete would continue to diminish.

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