Aviation

They started as high school interns at Spirit. Now they're full-time aircraft workers

Jeffrey Parker was a high school intern at Spirit AeroSystems last summer. In November, the Wichita-based aircraft supplier to Airbus and Boeing hired him for a full-time job.
Jeffrey Parker was a high school intern at Spirit AeroSystems last summer. In November, the Wichita-based aircraft supplier to Airbus and Boeing hired him for a full-time job. The Wichita Eagle

Before starting a six-week internship for high school students at Spirit AeroSystems last summer, Jeffrey Parker was convinced he didn't want to work in a factory.

"I didn't want to work in a plant," Parker, 19, said. "I wanted to work on oil rigs ... I wanted to work with my hands."

A few weeks into the internship, Parker learned he could have a job where he worked with his hands.

"I got to work with my hands probably more than I would (on an oil rig)," he said. "Plus, it's good pay."

Parker is one of four high school interns who Spirit has hired full time since it began the inaugural internship program last June.

And this summer, the aircraft supplier will double its number of high school interns in Wichita, from 20 to 40, company officials said this week. It's also doubling its program to 10 students in Tulsa. And it will pilot the program at its plant in Kinston, N.C., where five high school students will be offered internships.

Spirit is accepting applications now through the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas and will interview candidates the first week in April. Information is available from counselors at Wichita area high schools. It is also available at www.spiritaero.com/careers, under "summer manufacturing program."

It's a program that will augment the company's efforts to hire an additional 1,000 factory workers over the next two years. It's also a way to stimulate interest in manufacturing jobs among younger high school students and hopefully have a steady supply of new factory workers waiting in the wings.

"With the success Wichita and Tulsa had last year with hiring young adults and getting the youth excited about manufacturing in general, Spirit now sees that this program can be another pipeline for new employees," said Justin Albert, a training and development manager at Spirit.

Parker, a 2017 graduate of Douglass High School, said he applied for a full-time job at Spirit soon after completing his internship last July. He was hired in November to work as a process mechanic.

Unlike Parker, Bryce Crouch, a 2017 graduate of Circle High School, knew he wanted to work in the aircraft industry. Crouch, 18, said he's a third-generation aircraft worker.

"It was a good way to get my foot in the door," said Crouch, a process mechanic at Spirit who is halfway through his first year of Wichita Area Technical College's two-year airframe and powerplant program. He attends classes in the day and works at Spirit at night.

Students hired for the intern program are exposed to to sheet metal and machining careers. They receive hands-on experience with tools and learn the manufacturing process, company officials said.

"These are the critical skills we need right now to grow our talent pipelines," said Samantha Meeds, senior manager of Spirit's global talent acquisition. "As the program continues to evolve, it will be fluid and adjusted based on our hiring needs”.

Spirit divides its student interns into two groups: 16-17 year olds and 18-19 year olds.

Those in the younger group are paid $9 an hour, work for four hours a day, five days a week for three weeks. Their work is mostly training and education because of their younger age.

The older group gets hands-on experience and works with mentors, though they aren't allowed to go out and work on their own.

They work an identical daily schedule as the younger group but for six weeks instead of three. They are paid $10 an hour.

Albert, the training manager, said the high school internships will hopefully serve to fill its longer-term needs as its current workforce begins to reach retirement age.

"With our workforce aging like it is . . . it's good to get some younger generations interested in the work," Albert said. "They're a valuable pipeline."

Editor's note: Spirit is accepting applications now through the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas. The information was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

Spirit AeroSystems plans to add more than 1,000 jobs over the two years, President and CEO Tom Gentile announced Dec. 6, 2017. It also plans $1 billion in new capital investment at its Wichita site over five years, he said.

  Comments