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Piper launches apprenticeship to boost workforce

Demand driving innovative Florida program

Piper Aircraft CEO Simon Caldecott launched an accredited two-year aircraft building apprenticeship program during an outdoor ceremony at the company's 700,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at Florida's Vero Beach Regional Airport Oct. 12.

Photo by David Tulis.

He anticipated an “ace team of skilled workers” from Indian River State College would help fulfill the need for training, personal, and business aircraft to meet the aviation industry’s growing demand.

Piper scored two very large aircraft orders within the last 12 months, with the first to China’s Fanmei Aviation Technologies for 152 training aircraft and the second to the U.S.’s ATP Flight School for 100 aircraft. Caldecott said the 81-year-old company was essentially “sold out” of aircraft until the third quarter of 2019.

Caldecott said the company currently employs “about 990-ish” workers and expects to surpass 1,000 employees by Dec. 31 to meet demand. He added that establishing an apprenticeship program was a “major accomplishment” for the airplane manufacturer, which counts more than 37,000 crafted since production began in 1937 at the original factory in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.

The program begins in 2019 with 10 high school graduates and is expected to grow to 20 apprentices in 2020. The aircraft assembly journeymen will be eligible for a full package of company benefits.

Caldecott predicted students acting under the guidance of skilled experts would quickly learn their trade and become “very highly trained after two years.”

Indian River college president Edwin R. Massey said the college “can get pretty close” to real-world training, but the missing links are “the culture, the hands-on skills, and the processes that have been perfected over many years.”

The college offers more than 100 programs leading to bachelor or associate degrees, technical certificates, and applied technology diplomas. In 2015, it was ranked by the U.S. Department of Education as the third most affordable college in the country as well as one of Florida’s most affordable colleges.

“We can train a lot of skills, but we can’t yet get to that point,” Massey said, explaining that subject matter experts could “fill in those gaps” and that he was hopeful students would produce “an even better product” for Piper.

Massey pointed out that with an industry-specific certificate, college students could simultaneously take courses for a two-year baccalaureate degree that would potentially “turn out a stronger leader” for the company or lead to a management role.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Financial

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