When Jared Huss started his career as a pilot in the early 2000s, it was not easy to land a job.
“It was kind of slim pickings,” says Huss, now department chair of aeronautics at Fox Valley Technical College. “You really had to pay your dues.”
A decade ago, Huss says pilots made less than a third of what pilots today make, and now the industry is experiencing a significant pilot and aircraft technician shortage. Graduates of FVTC’s three aviation programs — including aeronautics-pilot training and aircraft electronics associate degrees and an airframe and powerplant mechanics technical diploma — enjoy a nearly 100 percent job placement rate.
“It’s incredible right now,” Huss says. “If someone really wants to work in the aviation industry, they’re going to pick from a multitude of great options.”
Students in FVTC’s program learn with hands-on, immersive methods, and the college partners with employers such as Gulfstream and Air Wisconsin. Huss says both associate degree programs are enrolled at capacity, and he anticipates interest will continue to grow.
The Fox Valley offers abundant resources and opportunities, and Oshkosh is the “world center for aviation,” Huss says. With its aviation programs, FVTC, which will host a job fair in April, works to meet industry needs as they arise in terms of managing enrollment numbers and capacity.
The efforts surely are welcome news to companies in search of talent in the sector. A February event in Oshkosh is designed to connect those employers to aviation and STEM talent while simultaneously increasing awareness about the city’s burgeoning aviation cluster and opportunities it offers.
The Talent Takeoff hiring event is slated for Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Menominee Nation Arena in Oshkosh. The Greater Oshkosh Economic Development Corp. is hosting the event, along with several other partners including the City of Oshkosh, other regional economic development organizations and the region’s four airports.
The event stems from Initiative 41, which formed when in 2012 and 2013, Oshkosh Corp. announced large-scale layoffs related to defense spending cuts. The layoffs resulted in a negative economic impact of more than $91 million, and officials recognized a need to diversify the regional economy.
In 2013, community and business leaders applied for and received a grant from the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment. It worked to align regional economic workforce development strategies and implement strategies to diversify and safeguard against future downturns.
Part of that grant provided funding to conduct an aerospace cluster study in Oshkosh and develop a business plan. It also called for implementing business plans for two smaller subset aerospace clusters: additive manufacturing and aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), as well as holding hiring events and an aerospace manufacturing lunch-and-learn series.
Talent Takeoff is the first of those hiring events. Art Rathjen, director of strategic initiatives for GOEDC, says the event will serve two purposes: connecting employers with talent and increasing awareness about opportunities available to companies to supply the aviation and aerospace industry.
“(It’s an) opportunity to continue to promote not only workforce development issues in general but foster a focus on aviation, aerospace, MRO and additive manufacturing in the businesses,” Rathjen says.
The event will connect employers with science, technology, engineering and mathematics students from regional colleges, universities and technical colleges, says Rathjen. The second of the two hiring events will be held at AirVenture in July.
While the event primarily targets manufacturers interested in keeping talent in the aviation and aerospace sector, GOEDC CEO Jason White says it also provides an opportunity to spread the word about supply chain opportunities available to manufacturers.
Many companies have sophisticated capabilities, and White sees an opportunity for those companies to diversify and obtain the certifications necessary to become suppliers in the sector.
“On this side, it’s a chicken and the egg, because we’re trying to build and help companies diversify into a new industry, an emerging industry in aviation,” White says. “But what comes first? The business, the certifications, the workforce? We’re trying to build all of that at the same time.”
Rathjen says the area has many resources it needs to succeed in building the sector, including a rich manufacturing environment, strong partners in the form of AeroInnovate and Wisconsin Aerospace Partners that add to creating a robust ecosystem, and four regional airports that are diversified, with each offering its own set of strengths.
The aviation sector will only continue to grow, Rathjen anticipates, with the evolution of drone deliverables on packages — FVTC recently added an unmanned aircraft systems certification program — and advanced mapping.
“Aviation is an exploding area of workforce and job opportunities,” Rathjen says.