Education

Airbus agreement sets guidelines on WSU student workers

The first major partnership on the Innovation Campus is required to employ no less than five Wichita State University students at a time.

But there may be times it won’t have to employ any at all.

That’s according to the applied learning contract between Airbus Americas Engineering and WSU, which was obtained in a request through the Kansas Open Records Act.

Minutes from previous meetings at WSU and the Kansas Board of Regents talked of up to 100 or 200 students working for Airbus.

Lou Heldman, WSU’s vice president for strategic communications, said five years into the partnership would be a good point to assess progress.

“We’re going into uncharted territory and it’s a way of saying, ‘what are our objectives here?’” Heldman said about the agreement. “We think it provides great opportunities for our students, and those opportunities will expand over time.”

In March 2015, Airbus announced it was moving its Wichita engineering center from Old Town to a new building on the university’s Innovation Campus. It was the first major partnership announced for the 120-acre development on the former Braeburn Golf Course.

Officials from WSU and Airbus said the move would provide “many opportunities for applied learning in aerospace engineering.” The Airbus facility was financed by MWCB LLC, a firm of Wichita businessmen David Murfin, Nestor Weigand Jr., Ivan Crossland and Steven Barrett.

The final group of Airbus employees started work at the Innovation Campus building this January.

Under the agreement, Airbus has sole discretion over who is qualified to work for the company.

“Airbus may, from time to time, request WSU to refer qualified candidates for open positions to perform specific part-time assignments,” according to the agreement.

Qualified candidates must be WSU students who are fluent in English and legally able to work at Airbus. They also have to complete a training program in Airbus processes developed by the Wichita State Innovation Alliance, the nonprofit that runs the Innovation Campus.

Qualified candidates become “leased workers” once an offer is extended and students are approved to begin work.

Starting on March 31 of this year, Airbus will lease “not fewer than five leased workers” according to the agreement between Airbus and WSU.

Airbus is not required to use any leased worker for any minimum amount of time.

“WSU acknowledges that Airbus’ requirements in quantity and duration needed for leased workers will vary from time to time based on its own workload,” according to the agreement. “There may be periods when it does not require any leased workers.”

“Airbus shall be under no obligation to take on any leased worker not necessitated by its own commercial and industrial requirements,” the agreement says, noting an exception for the part of the agreement about five leased workers.

Airbus can still hire candidates on its own “even if the position … has already been submitted to WSU.” The university also has the right to submit candidates to other companies before, during and after their work at Airbus.

The Eagle previously reported that 14 WSU students worked at Airbus in the spring and that 11 students worked there at the beginning of this semester.

WSU officials have previously said there was no employment goal between Airbus and WSU, and that no job pledges were sought or made.

But university documents have discussed projections for the number of student employees at the Airbus building in the past.

The relocation of Airbus would allow the company “to employ as many as 200 WSU engineering students in the development of aerospace technology,” according to minutes from a May 2015 meeting of the Wichita State Innovation Alliance.

A university tuition proposal before the Kansas Board of Regents in June 2016 noted Airbus “may employ up to 100 student workers as a means of developing the students’ capacities to become full-time employees upon graduation.”

Heldman said the Airbus building only has been open nine months, adding the university believes employment will grow over time as the industry allows.

“We don’t set applied learning goals with a nine-month time horizon,” Heldman said. “We’re trying to chart a new course for the Kansas economy.”

“You’re trying to nail it down as if there should no unknowns,” he told The Eagle. “Are we moving in the right direction with the right players and the right intent? That’s much harder to judge, I realize. But at the end of the day, that’s what’s important to Wichita and Wichita State.”

Heldman said five student employees is “obviously a fairly small number.” But he said the agreement recognizes the cyclical nature of the aviation industry.

“Things will not always be exactly this or exactly that,” Heldman said. “They’ll float based on the economic realities of the time.”

Daniel Salazar: 316-269-6791, @imdanielsalazar

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