To the naked eye, the gray windowless hangars next to Piedmont Triad International airport in Greensboro, N.C., may appear to be nothing out of the ordinary, but TIMCO Aviation wants students as young as fourth grade to see it differently. The company wants them to see it as a place where they can one day work.
"Being around aircraft is fun, so we do like to go to elementary schools and get people interested in aviation," said Kip Blakely, TIMCO's vice president of industry and government relations.
The company has reason to be reaching out to students as young as 10—the aviation industry is booming. Boeing estimates global cargo and passenger traffic will expand 5 percent annually through 2032. To accommodate the growth, 20,930 aircraft will be added to the world's fleet. For companies like TIMCO, a unit of Hong Kong-based HAECO, this means it will need to add trained and certified workers for years, just as 30 percent to 40 percent of its workforce is preparing to retire.
"We have major plans to expand," said Blakely, but finding the 400 technicians to staff the two new hangars TIMCO wants to build is the hard part. "That is really a headwind to our expansion."
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TIMCO is not alone. Even as the economy added 175,000 new jobs in February with the unemployment rate at 6.7 percent, a 2013 survey by Manpower found 38 percent of U.S. companies say a lack of skilled talent is impeding their growth.
TIMCO has 1,800 workers at the Greensboro plant, and Blakely estimates the firm will be hiring 350 new workers each year, for the next several years. To ensure a steady supply of trained employees, it is partnering with high schools, a local community college and a national program retraining adults in aviation.
So while outreach to young children is important, the real recruiting efforts begin in middle school. Interested eighth-graders can apply to attend Greensboro's Andrews Aviation Academy, one of only 50 high school aviation programs in the United States.
High school junior Bruno Cacace signed up, and in addition to the courses he has taken in drafting, physics and aviation fundamentals, he is shadowing an engineer at TIMCO this year. The floppy-haired 16-year-old said his experience gave him a new perspective on what being an engineer entails.