Richard M. Barron NEWS & RECORD
Aviation Academy Works to Address Skills Gap
August 31, 2014
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  • Employees and businesses are stronger when they work together with education to create career paths to good jobs, according to a new state report. Enter the Andrews High School Aviation Academy in High Point.

    The academy, created by Guilford County Schools, is part of the region’s emphasis on aviation as a growing part of the local economy. Economic development and community leaders are encouraging the program.

    Beginning in ninth grade, advanced students can enter the early college program that creates some of the most well-rounded potential employees in the county, said Cynthia Waters, the academy’s director.

    Students who graduate from the program earn associate’s degrees from GTCC that can be transferred to the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University or most colleges and universities.

    Sure, some students go for the glamour and become pilots through the program.

    But they can also head for professions that sit at the heart of the Triad’s growing aerospace industry, from TIMCO (which maintains and repairs large airliners) to Honda Aircraft Co. (which has developed one of the most advanced small jets in the industry).

    If a student needs it, Waters said, chances are the academy can find it.

    The academy offers flight simulators, a 3D printer, a wind tunnel and enough other opportunities for students to find what they want — and don’t want — to pursue in their careers.

    Companies like TIMCO are constantly on the lookout for more technical workers who can repair and help rebuild airliners.

    Some students aren’t attracted to those jobs, Waters said. But they pay a good wage: $45,000 a year to start and up to $65,000 a year.

    Other students will head to advanced engineering degrees. But Waters said don’t forget your “soft skills” or you’ll be out of the program.

    Soft skills — analytical thinking, communication, even enthusiasm — are often missing from job candidates, businesses said in the state survey.

    Some workers will never learn those skills, and many businesses won’t hire them.

    Students at Andrews get a healthy dose of what that means in and out of the academy.

    Aviation companies take on students as interns or allow them to join “job shadow” programs to get a feel for business.

    It often takes patience on both sides, Waters said.

    “It’s hard for a business to take in a high school student,” she said, “because they’re goofy and they have no idea what it’s like to work in the workforce and they do stupid things sometimes.”

    In class, when students work on projects in teams, Waters said, “it teaches them how to give and take. It teaches leadership skills, it teaches them how to include others.” Businesses say that soft skills can include leadership. And not necessarily for managers.

    “It’s very important they learn that give and take,” Waters said, “and how to talk to each other. … People don’t lose their job because they can’t do their work. They lose their job because they can’t get along with others.”

    Contact Richard M. Barron at (336) 373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.