Workforce is the key to Oklahoma's aerospace economy
While aviation is Oklahoma’s second-largest – and fastest-growing – economic sector, experts are in agreement that the key to continuing this sector’s growth remains the availability of a qualified workforce.
With two of the world’s largest aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities located in Oklahoma, there is a constant need for aerospace workers.
At the recent Oklahoma Aerospace Forum, industry leaders stressed the importance of capable employees.
Marcie Mack, state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, said the department is working to combat a shortage of qualified aerospace workers.
She said business and industry is the CareerTech system’s “primary customer,” with the system working closely with the industry to time the delivery of qualified candidates to match the need.
She said the department is flexible in changing its curriculum in aerospace MRO programs to match the industry’s needs. She said it is working on expanding access to the necessary training to more rural students.
“We want to make sure we are developing the best quality workforce we can in a timely manner,” Mack said.
The department is working to reach new groups of Oklahomans to generate more interest in aerospace to ensure a steady stream of candidates, such as engaging with students as young as fifth grade and reaching out to veterans transitioning to new careers, she said.
“We need all levels of education to be engaged in the workforce development conversation. … We cannot wait until someone is a junior or senior in high school … by that time we have missed the mark to have that conversation so they can explore what all the various pathways are in the state of Oklahoma,” Mack said.
“We are always looking for quality employees,” said Glann Dawson, Valkyrie Systems Aerospace CEO. “We need a lot of employees. We need pilots, we need assemblers, we need people that understand aerospace.”
Dawson said that Valkyrie decided to locate their business in Oklahoma City after hearing state and local officials talk about the availability of a qualified workforce.
“They told us about the ability to draw employees from Kansas, Colorado and Texas to come back to Oklahoma,” he said. “People that have graduated from here, left the state, but because of the economics of what we are building, those people would gladly come back home.”
“When we decided to relocate to Oklahoma City two years ago, the career centers that ensure that we have a workforce that’s excited about the aerospace industry and is capable, with not just with the legacy development of aircraft, but where the future is going,” said Steven Fendley, Kratos Unmanned Systems Division president. “The career tech schools are critical for what we are trying to do. A critical skill-set for us is the ability to manufacture these airplanes. This includes composite assemblers and technicians of all flavors. So we are working hand-in-hand with them, in fact, we are developing some curriculum in coordination with them. We also need program managers and engineers, so we are also working closely with the universities.”
“Aerospace, aviation and defense is such a huge part of our workforce and our economy,” said Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. “Since 2015 we have made 5500 new job announcements around this industry with about $1.3 billion in capital investment in Oklahoma. And that’s because Oklahoma’s workforce is second to none.”