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Expanding on Oklahoma’s Aerospace Education

An image of Adam Dumstorf teaching an airframe welding lesson to students at MetroTech in Oklahoma City.

Adam Dumstorf teaches an airframe welding lesson to students at MetroTech in Oklahoma City. Tinker has expanded its aerospace education outreach from career tech institutions to grades K-12. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kelly White)

With the need for a new generation of professional maintainers at Tinker Air Force Base, the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex’s Workforce Development Office has developed an outreach program that is spreading the word about career opportunities at Tinker Air Force Base.

Targeting schools and career tech institutions within a 45-mile radius of Tinker, the Outreach Team works to promote opportunities available for students with interested in career tech jobs within the aerospace industry.

“When we go out there…, people get excited because we are the largest single-site employer in the state,” said Clif Harden, Workforce Development Office’s Outreach Program Manager. “We get to go out there, tell them how to get involved and we get a lot of positive feedback all around.”

Now in its third year, Harden said the program is beginning to see an increase in the amount of students and partnerships being formed career techs, since the group works with between 2,500-3,000 students in a given year.

While they began primarily promoting opportunities within career techs, he added that they’ve begun working more within the K-12 system as well to promote awareness for aerospace earlier in the education process.

Along with promoting career opportunities, Harden said that his team also provides job search workshops and advice for the aerospace industry as a whole through resume workshops and other programs.

During their recruitment season, Harden and his team attend events at technology centers and schools around the state promoting opportunities to work at the OC-ALC. Attending events such as the Oklahoma City Community College’s 8th Grade Expo hat happened earlier this month, they interact with thousands of students.

“Our goal at these events is just to get our information out there,” said Brittany Williams, one of the Workforce Development program managers. “While there may be too many students for us to interact one-on-one with each, our goal is to get awareness for Tinker and aerospace as a potential option.”

For the one-on-one events, such as their mock job interviews and resume workshops that they host at the various High Schools and Tech Centers, Williams said it is easier to make more of a direct connection. At those events, the goal is to make students realize an aerospace career at Tinker is an option — even if their original career goals had not lined up with that.

While aviation routes within career and technology centers present obvious routes to students, Harden said that those pursuing careers as electricians, carpenters, or other manufacturing careers can easily transition into Tinker’s aviation workforce.

“We work closely with Tinker to make sure our graduates are aware of opportunities and that Tinker is aware of potential employees among our graduates,” said Loralie Carl, student records specialist with Metro Technology Centers. “When it comes to promoting our programs at events, it is a great opportunity to present aviation as an option when students are young. They might not know what they want to do, so this could be it.”

Harden said that the initiative has come at a vital time for the installation, as the OC-ALC is bringing on new workload, such as the KC-46 Pegasus tanker. This is causing a need for everything from airframe and powerplant mechanics to machinists, welders and electricians as more and more employes are leaving due to retirement.

Within Tinker’s maintenance workforce, Workforce Development Program Manager Barry George said that the OC-ALC is processing between 25 and 50 new hires every other week just to keep up with the attrition rate.

“There is a huge need right now for people over on the maintenance side, so this is what we do,” George said. “Overall, our job is workforce development — and workforce development does not stop.”

This increase in the program’s efforts come at a time when aerospace education is expanding into schools across the state. The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission recently launched a program that sponsors curriculum providing elective classes in the aerospace field beginning with 8th grade students.

Adam Fox, OAC aviation education coordinator, said that the curriculum was inspired by work done by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association through their You Can Fly initiative that identified a gap in aviation education within the K-12 system.

While the initiative began in the Ada Public Schools System, the curriculum has spread to other schools and now Oklahoma ranks 3rd in the nation for schools offering AOPA curriculum.

“Oklahoma’s second largest and fastest growing industry will benefit tremendously from having our educators teaching about opportunities within the aviation and aerospace industry,” Fox said. “The Aeronautics Commission has invested $60,000 into Ada Public School aviation programs over the span of three fiscal years.”

With Tinker as the largest employer for aerospace and aviation in the state, the field is the second largest growing industry in Oklahoma, falling only behind Oklahoma’s energy sector in contributing to the state’s economic growth.

Between 2017 and 2018 in Oklahoma, aircraft manufacturing grew the most by adding 3,800 jobs. Manufacturing of aerospace parts and products was second by adding 4,400 jobs, according to a report by labor market analytics company Economic Modeling, Inc.

Since 2015, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has assisted with business announcements from aerospace companies totaling more than 7,000 new jobs and more than $700 million in planned capital investment, according to Leslie Blair, public information officer with the Department of Commerce.

While the Outreach team targets those interested in trade schools, the Workforce Development Office also promotes higher education for its employees. Tracy Mackerelle, Training Element Chief, said that their office sponsors educational opportunities enabling employees to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Within the AF Civilian Development Education program, George said there are more than 20 different opportunities for individuals looking for professional development degree programs. The calendar year CDE application season opens Jan. 13. For more information, OC-ALC employees can contact George at 739-5602.