Aerospace Education Ideas Launched at Cantwell

On October 24, 2011, a hearing was held at theMuseum of Flight by Senator Maria Cantwell, who is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee, and the newly appointed chair of the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security Subcommittee. The hearing was held to address a range of current concerns in the aviation industry. Leading industry CEO’s and education representatives reported on progress that their companies and schools were making, in order to inform Senator Cantwell on the subject and hopefully spark major reform in the industry.

Senator Cantwell plans to bring information from the hearing to the Senate, and try to convince the federal government to take a larger initiative towards reforming the industry. The Senator and many others agree that the industry is at a major turning point, and initiatives need to be taken quickly.

“We are at a crossroads,” said Cantwell, “there is an increase in a demand for aerospace products with the potential workforce who’s majority of the workers can retire in the next ten years.” Aviation and aerospace companies around the state are facing these same issues.

Michael Greenwood, Senior Manager for Boeing’s Aerospace Academic Alignment Team, said that Boeing faces a unique challenge with its workforce. In addition to the challenges of the 787 Dreamliner and acquisition of the U.S. tanker contract, Boeing faces a staffing problem, as 40% of the engineering workforce at Boeing will be eligible to retire within the next few years.

Many industry representatives at the hearing emphasized the lack of fundamental skills in the new workforce, and cited the need for a serious raise in education funding to solve these problems.

“It is once again time for the American labor movement to pressure the public and private sectors to adequately fund the education of the American worker,” said Thomas M. McCarty, president of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, “it is not acceptable that qualified students are denied entry into our state universities for lack of funding.”

The focus of almost all the requests to the Senator were centered around the need for more government funding in education in programs that would either make investments to create more classes, or investments to improve apprenticeship, high school, and post high school education.

All of the representatives there addressed the need for inspiring students to enjoy math and science. Many feel that the lack of hands on experience for students is causing them to run away from math and science. Two of the major proposals to solving this problem were offering more shop classes in order to give students technical manufacturing capabilities, and showing the real world application of STEM education. Both business and education leaders agreed upon this point and seemed ready to offer each other support.

Even AHS Principal Reba Gilman testified. “Aviation High is a college prep high school for students who have a passion for Aviation and Aerospace. It was conceived in response to the critical need to improve student achievement in math and science.”

At the hearing, Gilman addressed the need for more cooperation between professionals in the industry and education.

“The formalization of a relationship with the FAA by having the agency proved a full-time staff person at the school, offer paid internships to students and help expose and familiarize our students and staff with cutting edge technologies such as UAVS, Next Gen standards, and more,” suggested Gilman.

She also encouraged “the committee to consider working with industry, federal agencies and Aviation High to help replicate schools like ours in other parts of Washington state and the country.”

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