Beginning this fall, Wichita students could be able to study aircraft production and maintenance in high school, working toward certificates that could land them jobs immediately after graduation.
Aviation Pathway, a proposed new curriculum in Wichita public schools, would be the first aviation technical education pathway in Kansas. The program, a partnership among the Wichita district, WSU Tech and Textron Aviation, was announced Monday on a production floor at Textron in east Wichita.
Textron officials would not say what the jobs would pay. But according to the Kansas Department of Labor, the average entry-level annual wage for an avionics technician is $45,961, and the average entry-level wage for aircraft mechanics and service technicians is $40,496.
"The key element to our success has been the talented and skilled workforce that we've had for decades," said Jim Walters, senior vice president of human resources at Textron.
"Today's announcement is about taking a significant step to reach earlier and deeper into the talent pipeline and (to) provide our workers of the future with the opportunity to ... have meaningful careers in our great industry."
If approved by the Kansas Board of Education this summer, the program would launch at North, Northwest, Southeast and West high schools this fall, said Jim Means, director of career and technical education for the Wichita district.
About 250 students already have enrolled in prerequisite courses or other technical education classes that could translate to the new pathway program, Means said.
Students would take classes at their high schools and at WSU Tech's National Center for Aviation Training campus, studying topics such as aerostructures, composites, avionics and engine performance, as well as CATIA, a computer-aided engineering design program widely used in aviation.
The program seeks to address the tightening supply of aircraft mechanics and technicians that is expected to turn into a shortage by 2022.
The shortage already is a problem at Textron Aviation, the maker of Cessna and Beechcraft airplanes, which depends on a steady supply of airframe and powerplant mechanics and avionics technicians for its chain of aircraft service centers. The company has to hire about 150 mechanics a year across its network just to keep up with attrition, officials said.
At Monday's announcement, officials said students who graduate with the right certificates and credentials could compete for jobs right out of high school.
"Many times parents are the ones that think the kids are not succeeding if they go to tech school, and these kinds of programs really prove them wrong," said state Sen. Lynn Rogers, a former Wichita school board member who now serves in the Kansas Legislature.
"Those certificates that the kids can get and move forward with are wonderful, because it lets them then pay for their next level of education."
Officials said the proposed program would be paid for with state funding as part of a 2012 initiative to enhance career and technical education. Senate Bill 155 called for the state to help pay tuition for high school students enrolled in career and technical education at a community or technical college and helped provide those students with transportation to take those classes.
Wichita superintendent Alicia Thompson called the new program "a game-changer for Wichita students and for the aviation community."
"To be prepared upon graduation to begin careers in your industry — what an amazing way to change the trajectory for kids," Thompson said. "I believe firmly that education equals economic development. When our students see and they feel the experience in your world, they will be able to begin associating what they love to do to what they can become."
Wichita students or parents interested in exploring the proposed Aviation Pathway program should contact their assigned high school counselor for more information or contact Jim Means at 316-973-4644.