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564th AMXS graduates first class of internal vocational training program

Graduates of the sheet metal vocational program pose for a group photo.

Members of the first class of the 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s sheet metal vocational program pose for a group photo during their graduation ceremony at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., March 5, 2021. The class was formed during the COVID pandemic to teach new employees best practices for working at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and on the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

Woman holding a rivet inside an aircraft

Brooke Selfridge, 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) sheet metal helper, shows an unused rivet she found while searching for foreign objects and debris onboard a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., March 5, 2021. Selfridge is part of the 564th AMXS’s sheet metal vocational program, which teaches new employees best practices for working at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and on the KC-135. As part of the class, students perform work aboard aircraft, such as inspecting components and removing FOD. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

Members of the sheet metal vocational program posing for group photo.

Current and graduating members of the 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s sheet metal vocational program pose for a group photo with William Baumann, 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group Deputy Director, left, and Col. Greg Lowe, 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group commander, right, at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., March 5, 2021. The class was formed during the COVID pandemic to teach new employees best practices for working on the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

Maintainers working inside aircraft

Members of the 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s sheet metal vocational program work to find and remove foreign objects and debris, known as FOD, onboard a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft undergoing programmed depot maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., March 5, 2021. FOD such as rivets, metal shavings and other debris can be hazardous to aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Shirk)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

The 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron recently graduated its first class from its internally developed sheet metal vocational program.

Established in response to the COVID pandemic, the vocational training program was formed when traditional classroom training for new employees became unavailable.

“We want this to be a benchmark for what we’re going to do in the future and we expect good things out of you,” said William Baumann, 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group deputy director, during the March 5, 2021, graduation ceremony. “Being a professional aircraft maintainer is important work and it demands something from you as well, to maintain that level of excellence as we put these airplanes back together.”

The 564th AMXS reached out to the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex’s Training Office for assistance in building the coursework, but also tailored their class to better meet the needs of those working on the KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. The resulting class, 18 weeks long, rotates students through different elements.

“We did six weeks in the vocational shop and six weeks in our inspection dock, teaching them how to look at their airplanes,” said Gordon Anderson, 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production flight chief. “Eight weeks was actually on the aircraft, doing trailing edge panels, smaller jobs, until we release them to the aircraft.”

The focus on quality from the beginning has contributed to the unit’s Acceptance Inspection Deficiency Report customer deficiency rate falling to a five-year low.

Bringing the training class onto the shop floor has had a beneficial side effect, eliminating foreign objects and debris, known as FOD.

“On Friday afternoons, they’ll come down and actually get on the airplane and de-FOD and help clean,” Anderson said. “We’ve used that as a training aid to some of our more senior mechanics…so it’s kind of now turned into a challenge. If the dock crew knows the vo-tech class is coming to their dock on Friday afternoon to inspect the aircraft, it’s driving our senior technicians to be better at what they’re doing.”

As the world slowly returns to normal, the 564th AMXS is looking to keep the benefits of their program. The 564th AMXS is reaching back to the OC-ALC Training Office to integrate some of the lessons learned into future courses as well as bringing in one of the Training Office’s instructors to the shop floor, preventing the loss of a supervisor who would normally be tasked with teaching duties.

The 564th is also taking inputs from its students and graduates to make the class more valuable as well as tailoring the content to be valuable to other units on base.