By Jerry Siebenmark
The Wichita Area Technical College will share in a $14.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to lead a group of community colleges from across the country in developing standardized aviation training.
WATC will receive about $9 million in grant funding. The funds will be released Oct. 1.
“It doesn’t get better than that,” WATC president Tony Kinkel said Thursday. “It’s a massive investment in Kansas. It’s a major game changer.”
The other colleges receiving portions of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant are Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Ind.; Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C.; Tulsa Community College in Tulsa; and Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Wash. Those schools, along with WATC, comprise the National Aviation Consortium.
According to a WATC news release, the grant is part of the Obama administration’s initiative to allocate $500 million nationally in support of job training through local employer partnerships.
Kinkel and other college officials said the grant will enable them to share the best pieces of their aviation training curricula to develop what they hope will be a standardized way of training workers so they will be able to apply their training immediately at work no matter which aerospace employer hires them.
“We see this as a great collaboration,” said Mel Cossette, executive director of the National Resource Center for Materials Technology Education, which is housed at Edmonds Community College. Edmonds offers training on advanced materials and has a close working relationship with Boeing in Seattle, Cossette said.
“Competition isn’t sometimes the best way to go,” he said. “We’ll be working with the parts and pieces we each do very well. That’s the great thing about this grant: Every partner has something they do well.”
Cossette added that ultimately the curricula the five colleges come up with could lead to a set of skills that could be transferrable to other industries, such as being able to work with composites in not only aviation, but also automotive, maritime and biotechnology.
Kinkel said there probably won’t be any immediate and obvious effects of the grant at WATC.
“We have logistical work that we have to do with the Department of Labor,” he said. “We have to hire a project manager. We’ve got to coordinate with all the other community colleges.
“It’s a process that that will take a couple of months to gear up, but we’re already moving on it today.”
He said the grant will mean the addition of five new positions: a project manager, an administrative assistant, a project coordinator, a fiscal coordinator — who will make sure the money is spent according to the terms of the grant — and an instructional designer, who will develop courses that emerge from the work of the five colleges on standardizing aviation training. He said there also will be money available for professional development for WATC faculty and staff.
He said WATC has about 40 faculty and staff who currently work in or support aviation training. Total employment at WATC is 170 full-time faculty and staff, and about 200 adjunct, or part-time, faculty.
In Wichita, local partners to WATC on the grant include Bombardier Learjet, Cessna Aircraft, Hawker Beechcraft and Spirit AeroSystems, as well as the Kansas Board of Regents, the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas and Kansas Works.
Keith Lawing, executive director of the Workforce Alliance, said more and more jobs in manufacturing require post-secondary education or training.
“(Employers) want somebody delivered to them that can already do the job,” he said.
The grant, Lawing said, will “help us deliver the training employers have been wanting and asking for for some time.”
“And the other key piece to this … is the unifying curriculum across the country. This helps to unify that piece of the training so employers have an understanding of what that piece of training really means.”
Cossette and Kinkel also think that a standardized aviation training curriculum is important to the nation maintaining its manufacturing prowess in the world.
“I think (manufacturers) are in transition,” Kinkel said. “And I think they’re wanting a more educated, well-rounded employee that works the shop floor but they are also thinking about processes on the floor, about doing their work in a more efficient way.
“And I think that this grant will sort of propel us to this national standard.”