Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Educators: Cooperation, collaboration key to filling South Carolina aerospace jobs

Lockheed Martin pilot instructor Chad Luntz (right) shows Royal D'Cunha, a research engineer with the University of South Carolina's McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, how to operate a T-50A flight simulator on display Wednesday at the S.C. Aerospace Conference and Expo in Columbia. 

COLUMBIA — With aerospace engineering courses under way in six South Carolina high schools this year, education experts at the South Carolina Aerospace Conference and Expo on Wednesday called for more collaboration with the industry to help prepare students for careers in the fast-growing field.

That includes mentoring teachers, letting educators know what specific skills the industry needs and having workers who are willing to visit classrooms to give first-hand accounts of the types of jobs that are available.

"It's one thing to hear about it, it's another thing to see the person who does the work every day," said Darrell Johnson, superintendent of Greenwood School District No. 5, where Emerald High is among the schools taking part in the new aerospace curriculum. "Students need to see real world opportunities."

The high school program is designed to appeal to students who are curious about the design and flight of aircraft and spacecraft vehicles. The curriculum, designed by the Southern Regional Education Board, consists of four courses: fundamentals of aerospace technology; advanced aerospace technology; aeronautics engineering application; and astronautics engineering applications.

Each school will receive $50,000 from the state Department of Education to cover startup costs.

Students taking the courses will be better prepared for training at the state's technical colleges for certificates in advanced manufacturing careers with companies like Lockheed Martin, which is moving production of its F-16 fighter jet to the S.C. Technology and Aviation Center in Greenville from Texas this year, and Boeing Co., which makes its 787 Dreamliner commercial airplanes in North Charleston.

Molly Spearman, the state's superintendent of education, said the program is already generating interest among students and other schools that want to participate. Spearman said she recently visited R.B. Stall High School in North Charleston, where the curriculum is being taught, and "was surprised to walk into a classroom where the students were on a simulator learning how to fly a plane."

"Their interest has been sparked, and we need to now supply a pathway for them all the way from elementary to high school so they can walk right into the technical training they need to be successful," she said.

For the curriculum to succeed, however, Spearman and others said they need the industry's feedback.

"We don't know it all," Spearman told industry leaders. "If we're going to get every child in the state ready, we need help. You have an open invitation to come into our schools."

Marty Conner Sr., associate superintendent of Orangeburg County Consolidated District No. 3, said interaction with industry leaders is important both for students and teachers.

"To have industry come in and provide mentorships to teachers who don't know what the industry needs — that is critical," Conner said, adding that industry also must help provide resources for classrooms.

"We have textbooks, but not equipment," he said.

South Carolina's aerospace industry employs about 55,000 people at an average wage of about $70,000 per year and has an annual economic impact of $19 billion. Steve Townes — who helped push for the high school curriculum as head of industry group SC Aerospace — told the conference that he expects the state's aerospace businesses will employ 200,000 people and top $35 billion in economic impact by 2027.

"We're the fastest-growing state in aerospace," said Townes, who is CEO of Greenville-based Ranger Aerospace.

Townes said the six high schools teaching aerospace courses is a good start, but not enough. He envisions 16 high schools with programs linked to each of the state's 16 technical colleges, with a coordinated curriculum between the two levels. He points to a new aeronautical training center at Trident Technical College as a "world class" example of the type of programs needed to fill the industry's employment pipeline.

Lockheed Martin is among the aerospace companies investing in technical college training. Don Erickson, site director for the defense contractor, said the company has been providing scholarship funds to Greenville Technical College since 2007 for the school's aviation maintenance and training facility.

"They're going to come in with high-paying entry-level jobs, working on something like an F-16 ... just doing cool stuff in aviation," Erickson said of students in the college's program.

Townes said the industry and educators need to do a better job of letting young people know about the opportunities in aerospace jobs throughout South Carolina.

"There is a huge premium in salary, benefits and future opportunities if you learn to work on or around airplanes," he said. "It's a cool industry. It's high tech."

Original article can be found here ➤

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