In the next two years, the city’s largest employer will need to find 1,000 workers to add to the 11,000 it already has.
It’s part of Spirit AeroSystems’ $1 billion Wichita plant expansion, announced Wednesday.
And they aren’t just any jobs at Spirit, which manufactures parts and fuselages for commercial and defense aircraft. They are skilled jobs that require training to deburr, rout and form metal and to operate computer numeric controlled machines and other complex tools. Most of the new jobs will be for sheet metal mechanics, composite technicians and CNC machine operators, Spirit said.
Spirit CEO Tom Gentile acknowledged the challenge of filling those jobs — 800 in 2018 and 200 in 2019 — at the company’s expansion announcement.
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“It is true that today, really in many communities, it’s harder and harder to recruit skilled employees that can do this highly technical work that we do to produce aircraft for the global airlines,” Gentile said.
Spirit has several local resources to tap into to fill those jobs “that will help us get the kind of trained employees that we need that can hit the ground running,” Gentile said.
Chief among them is the Wichita Area Technical College, which offers training programs at the National Center for Aviation Training aimed at the skill sets Spirit will need.
The college offers training for sheet metal mechanics, composite technology and CNC machining in programs that can be completed in “as little as a few months” as part of a partnership with Spirit, Andy McFadden, WATC spokesman, said in an e-mail. Those programs also are eligible for WATC’s Wichita Promise scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition and includes a guaranteed job interview at Spirit.
He said WATC expects to see increasing enrollment in those programs because of Spirit’s expansion.
Wichita State University, Newman and Friends University will help to fill the gaps in other areas, including engineering, Gentile said.
Spirit also hopes that working with the machinists and other unions through their apprenticeship programs will help, as well as internship programs the company offers directly, Gentile said.
Jeff Fluhr, president of the Greater Wichita Partnership, said he thinks Spirit should be able to fill all of its new jobs. He points to Spirit filling 349 new jobs at its Wichita plant in 2016. He also referred to 300 people showing up at Spirit in late July for a non-existent job fair after a 2-year-old Eagle story had been shared on Facebook.
“Certainly we need to work with them to cultivate the workforce, but I think we need to do that with recruitment as well,” Fluhr said, in terms of attracting workers from outside the region.
Recruitment will be important, an area workforce official said, because an increase in employment at Spirit will also put pressure on the companies that supply it. They’re going to need more workers, too, both to fill any jobs vacated by their employees going to Spirit and to support an increased workload.
“Those jobs at Spirit require more jobs in the supply chain,” said Keith Lawing, CEO of the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas.
“I think the advantage we have is we do have an infrastructure in place … that will help us develop the workforce,” he said. That infrastructure includes the National Center for Aviation Training as well as public policies encouraging skills training, he said.
Still, that probably won’t be enough in the long term, he said.
“We need the population to grow here,” Lawing said. “I think we need to have an aggressive strategy to try to get people to move to this region. I think we need to reach down to Oklahoma City, Dallas and Missouri.
“That needs to be one part of … taking advantage of the training infrastructure we have here.”