Partnership designed to help high school grads land aviation jobs

WICHITA, Kan. A new plan could have high-school students in Wichita walking off the graduation stage and into a job in the aviation industry.

The plan is a part of a partnership with Wichita Public Schools, Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology (WSU Tech) and Textron Aviation.

Students are already signing up to take advantage of a pathway to get their feet in the door with careers in aviation.

"We didn't start recruiting until April, and we have 250 students already. So I can imagine once we get the word out, and once people understand this is a viable option for students we can anticipate the program to grow," says USD 259 (Wichita Public Schools) Superintendent Dr. Alicia Thompson.

The "pathway" begins with students starting coursework as high school freshmen and then learning at WSU Tech.

"Then their junior and senior year, they'll be able to come to our campus, the national center for aviation training for that technical component of whatever pathway they're choosing," says Andy McFayden with WESU Tech Executive Director, Marketing and Community Outreach.

Textron Aviation leaders say they need skilled workers and at any given time, have up to 200 job openings.

"Given the aging workforce that we have, there's a pretty substantial need down the road, and what this program will do," says Textron Aviation Senior Vice President of Human Resources Jim Walters. "I call it planting an oak tree, it's seeding with student the viable opportunity to be part of our industry longer term."

The funding for this partnership would be from the State of Kansas as part of an approved career technical pathway. Similar programs exist for agriculture and welding, organizers say.

"We're trying to help every student find their passion, and as we do that we're trying to help guide them so that they can do that and stay in Kansas and prosper and earn a living that will allow them to live in the middle class or beyond," says Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education.

The State Board of Education still needs to approve the proposed pathway for high school students to connect with job opportunities in aviation.

If that approval happens as expected, the program will start this fall with students from Wichita West, Wichita Northwest, Wichita North and Wichita Southeast High School students eligible to participate in the first year.