College, aerospace partners assembling future workforce

By Julie Drake, Antelope Valley Press

6385928PALMDALE - Looking to meet the needs of the local aerospace industry that is estimated to need 2,000 trained airframe mechanics, Antelope Valley College and its aerospace partners developed a rapid training program to get workers ready in eight weeks.

Students in the Aircraft Fabrication and Assembly Rapid Training Program at the Palmdale Regional Airport Terminal earn college credit on their way to a certificate. The entry-level skills they develop in the certificate program prepare them for a career in the aerospace industry. 

"They move through this program and they have that platform, that certificate, that allows them to move on without backing up, to a degree and hopefully into a four-year program to assist them," AV College President Ed Knudson said Thursday at an open house in Palmdale. 

Knudson, AV College Board President Michael Adams, Clerk Lew Stults and trustee Laura Herman; Rep. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale; Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger; Mayor Jim Ledford; and other dignitaries were on hand for the event. 

The program began about 1 years ago on the main AV College campus in Lancaster. The certificate program is now at the Palmdale Regional Airport Terminal with morning and evening classes. 

"We're preparing airframe mechanics at the rate of 50 every eight weeks," Knudson said.

Students in the program go through 320 hours of instruction in eight weeks. More than 90% of students are hired in the aerospace industry. Those who do not qualify for a defense industry job will have the skill set that can get them a job with electric bus manufacturer BYD in Lancaster, or light rail car builder Kinkisharyo in Palmdale.

"What we're very pleased about is the opportunity to serve the community, make sure that we're meeting workforce needs as rapidly as we can, and providing opportunity for students to go on," Knudson said, adding that students gain a career out of the program.

Among the companies hiring is Northrop Grumman, which in October 2015 was awarded a contract for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the Air Force's next long-range bomber, later dubbed the B-21 Raider. Much of the multi-billion-dollar project remains classified, but Antelope Valley officials said they were told the bomber would be assembled in Palmdale, bringing hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs to the region.

The bomber contract is so secret nobody will talk much about it. 

Ledford, after the ceremony, said there could be thousands of jobs. 

"It's something Northrop Grumman said: looks like a demand for 2,000 jobs. These are all positive signs that something big is coming," Ledford said.

Orville Dothage, manager of Process Improvement for Northrop Grumman, said the program is not specifically for Northrop Grumman but for the manufacturing industry and the growth that will occur in the Antelope Valley.

"We recognized that we were going to have a huge shortage of people," Dothage said.

As the aerospace industry continues to grow, other industries that support them, including machining and suppliers, will grow along with it. Those will be followed by housing and other industries such as restaurants.

"It's going to exceptional for the Antelope Valley," Dothage said. "I haven't had a program this successful. We have put up some programs in other areas but they never had the opportunity to grow that this one does. I
was proud to just be a part of it."

Knight said when the community needs something the college can provide it.

"There is no doubt that this is the birthplace of aviation. The Wright Brothers might have done it 2,500 miles away, but after that we took over. And for the last 90 years it's been happening right here, every day, all the
time," Knight said.

Maria Clinton, the department chairwoman for Career Technical Education at AV College, said the partnership with Northrop Grumman began about 11 years ago.

"I feel that this partnership that we have with Northrop Grumman is a model for other college career and technical education programs and their industry partners," Clinton said.

Students who complete the program can continue on with their education to earn an associate degree, and then go on to AV College's new bachelor's degree program in airframe manufacturing technology.

"The only one in the nation, recommended and designed by our aerospace partners," Clinton said.

Clinton said afterward that Northrop Grumman is the powerhouse behind the program because all of the students want to work for the company.

SpaceX, Scaled Composites, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and The Spaceship Company also hire graduates.

Eleven cohorts of 24 students each have completed the program. Clinton said her goal is to reach about 400 graduates by the end of the year.

"We will have graduated about 370-something, which is pretty good," she said.

Graduate Anthony Canales, 19, started working for Northrop Grumman about two months ago. He said the program sets new employees up for success.

"You already know most of the stuff that they'll train you on so it will be easier on you as a new hire," Canales said.

Lake Los Angeles resident Cindy Dain, 38, is in the final week. Dain, who returned to school after raising three children, is going through the hiring process for a job.

"I was looking for a career, not a job," said Dain, who added she has been interested in planes and how they work since she was a child.

Knight said the Antelope Valley's aerospace boom will continue for the next 20 years or so. "We need the folks, and so that is what the college is bringing us, the folks that know how to do it," Knight said.

Barger said she is proud of the work being done here to train students and give them jobs. She argued the 90% job placement is probably the best placement in all of Los Angeles County.

"I am proud to know that we are going to have jobs for a long time," Barger said.

Barger added the biggest challenge for Measure M, the Los Angeles County half-cent sales tax approved by voters last November, is finding a workforce for the transit projects it will fund.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is what workforce development is like; it's great when you can bring all the parties together to develop a program that you can spread across many industries," Ledford said.


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