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.
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.
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.