Students soar into aerospace careers

Melanie Mark

GOOD-PAYING aircraft-technician jobs are being created as a result of more training spaces to support the Okanagan’s booming aerospace industry.

An innovative partnership between the Industry Training Authority (ITA), KF Aerospace, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) and Okanagan College is supporting apprentices in the aircraft maintenance engineering structures (AME ‘S’) program.

In 2016, 2,925 people in B.C. were employed as aircraft mechanics. About half these workers are employed in the Vancouver area, with 11% in Kelowna, 6% in Abbotsford-Mission, 5% in Victoria and 4% in Courtenay. According to the BC Labour Market Outlook, there will be 1,740 job openings over the next 10 years.

Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, visited Kelowna’s KF Aerospace hangar on Thursday to meet with the training partners and witness first-hand how the government’s investment is directly supporting 14 students who are part of a special intake of the program.

“With a global and regional demand for people in the aerospace industry exceeding the supply of qualified apprentices, it is critical to find solutions to meet the needs of industry, while creating good-paying jobs for people,” said Mark. “I’m extremely proud of the collaborative solution we’ve been a part of, in bringing more training opportunities for people in Kelowna.”

“Investing in skills development to create good jobs for people in every corner of the province is one of the B.C. government’s core commitments,” said Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston. “Success stories such as this demonstrate the real value of government’s partnership with the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada and its efforts to strengthen the B.C. aerospace industry.”

The 10-month program, which began in November 2017, is the result of a unique partnership between government, industry and the post-secondary sector. While Okanagan College typically offers one intake of the in-demand AME ‘S’ program per year, the partners’ joint efforts made a second intake possible, which is welcome news to the aerospace industry.

For the past several years, KF Aerospace has hired the college’s entire graduating class of AME ‘S’ students. The number of graduates is still not meeting the company’s needs.

“We’re experiencing a significant skills shortage in our sector,” explained Tracy Medve, President of KF Aerospace. “We currently have more than 20 vacancies for AME ‘S’ apprentices and want to continue to expand our operations. Having this additional group of specially trained students is going to go a long way in closing that gap.”

The program is being operated with an investment of $88,800 from the ITA, which covers the cost of delivery. KF Aerospace has matched the ITA’s contribution with funding that takes care of instructional costs. AIAC has invested $20,000 to support the program with tools and equipment, and the college is covering the remaining operational costs.

The intake could not have come at a better time for 27-year-old Cassandra Johnson. The single mother of four was looking for a program that would advance her career and allow her to enter the workforce quickly with opportunities for growth.

“Having this additional intake of the program was such welcome news, as it allowed me to get started on my training earlier than expected and will have me out in the workforce in just a few months,” said Johnson. “I am extremely grateful to the funding partners for working together to make this happen for me and my family.”

“This is an example of innovation at its best,” said Jim Hamilton, President of Okanagan College. “We identified a need in our community and found ways to partner with government and industry to deliver a flexible and creative solution that gives students more opportunities to train for rewarding careers close to home. I’m very grateful to all of the partners for seeing the value in this program, which will have a significant impact on our community.”

“Innovative training partnerships like this are integral to helping B.C.’s apprentices succeed and in helping employers grow their business,” said Gary Herman, CEO of the ITA. “We’re honoured to be a part of these efforts to increase access to trades training and look forward to future collaborations with industry, training providers and government throughout our province.”

“Bringing together the Province, industry and educational institutions through training initiatives like this one is essential to ensuring the continued growth of B.C.’s aerospace sector in the years ahead,” said Jim Quick, President and CEO of the AIAC. “We wouldn’t be celebrating this partnership today if it weren’t for the commitment of every partner here to a stronger B.C. aerospace industry and workforce. We’re delighted to support this initiative.”