BRIDGEPORT— There are hundreds, if not thousands, of hard-to-fill job openings in the aviation maintenance industry in the U.S. and North Central West Virginia is feeling that crunch.
Pierpont Community & Technical College’s National Aerospace Education Center was filled Thursday morning with 22 different aviation employers from West Virginia and the surrounding states that are looking to recruit Pierpont students and potentially community members as well.
Pratt & Whitney and Aurora Flight Services, companies housed on the campus of the North Central West Virginia Airport were recruiting at the event along with companies from states away such as Airborne Express, an air cargo company whose hub is in Wilmington, Ohio.
“We’re trying to broaden the horizon of offerings we can provide the students as they seek employment,” said Brad Gilbert, Pierpont’s director of aviation technology. “We have from the airfield here and we also brought in regional companies from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and around the region.”
The majority of companies represented Thursday were locally-housed companies that contribute to North Central West Virginia’s $1.1 billion aviation industry. Overseeing the companies moving in is the Mid Atlantic Aerospace Complex and its president, Tracy Miller.
Miller has witnessed the growth in the aviation industry around the country and has had her hands in the growth specifically at the NCWV Airport. With the new AeroTech Park opening to businesses soon, she hopes to see the economic footprint of aviation in the region double from $1 billion to $2 billion.
But for that to happen the workforce has to be there, and right now that growth is being stunted by an aging workforce.
“This industry sector at CKB has a lot of people ready to retire and if they all walked out the door tomorrow, it would be very hard to lose the knowledge they’re carrying,” Miller said. “We need to get these young people in so the folks that really know their niche lingo and really teach these young people.”
The worries of an aging workforce aren’t limited to Gilbert and Miller. The leaders within the local industry see it coming and are already braced for its impact.
That’s a key reason why so many local aviation companies are in full support of the aviation programs at Pierpont. One company in support who was present Thursday was Pratt & Whitney, a designer and manufacturer of turbine engines.
Chuck Stemple, a manager at the Bridgeport facility; and Fred Smart, human resources manager for the company, are both keenly aware of the workforce shortages that could be coming if they don’t act fast to recruit young people.
“We’re looking for folks of all age groups. I’ve been in this industry for 37 years so we have a lot in my age group,” Stemple said. “We’ve got a lot of applicants, we’re here talking to all the younger generation, but we also need some individuals in that middle generation, so we don’t run into this issue in the future.”
Smart agreed and said their company has had its fair share of retirements already.
“We’ve seen a lot of movement in our workforce. More movement in the last two years than in the previous 10,” Smart said. “We have a lot of retirement, and we have a lot of growth right now, so we really need manpower.”
Gilbert and Pierpont marketed the job fair to all students and community members because many positions open in these companies don’t require the new hire to have a specific certification to fill a position.
Aurora Flight Services, another local company that’s housed right next door to the Pierpont’s aerospace center, specializes in advanced composite materials. While their job openings aren’t exactly aligned with the programs Pierpont has, they know that Pierpont’s program are important for the industry as a whole.
“Something like this career fair is a great resource for companies to find local talent and train them for career opportunities in the area,” Aurora Talent Acquisition Brian Dantzler said. “This is a great thing for the community and the region and [Pierpont] provides a great service.”
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