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AAR: NC fitting workers to jobs national need

By Emery P. Dalesio
AP Business Writer / October 21, 2011

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RALEIGH, N.C.—For more than two years, Danny Moses has been working as an assembly technician at a Goldsboro defense contractor. Then he found out that AAR Corp. really needed welders, and training for that job required a 90-day certificate program.

That sounded like a good deal, said Moses, 36, of Goldsboro.

"The main thing was money, but I love a challenge," Moses said. "Anything I could do working with my hands, I love it."

AAR's CEO David Storch visited the company's Goldsboro plant Thursday to draw attention to what Moses represents -- good jobs are available now to workers who earn the specific technical skills and certifications some employers need.

The parts and service supplier for military and commercial aircraft has 600 job vacancies nationwide for aircraft mechanics, welders, painters, machine operators and other positions. It needed to hire 100 certified welders in Goldsboro by the end of this year to meet production targets.

AAR worked with North Carolina community colleges to train workers in 90 days for a welding certification that qualified them to work on making specialized aircraft cargo containers that transport military kitchens, sleeping quarters and water treatment gear.

Manufacturing companies are struggling to fill a need for workers who have technical knowledge and skills that don't require a university degree, Storch said.

"There's a tendency in our country to put a lot of emphasis around a four-year college degree. But you know, there's a lot of four-year-college-degreed people out there without jobs," he said. "If you look at my company, I've got all the four-year-college-degreed people I need. What I need is these mid-skills positions to be filled so I can produce product that people actually want to buy."

The so-called skills gap that retards AAR from peak production is a national problem biting manufacturers as they replace unskilled workers with automation. The tasks that still require human hands require technical skills lacking even though millions are unemployed and desperate.

A survey of more than 1,100 manufacturing executives released this week by consulting firm Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute reported that two-thirds have a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers.

Part of the problem is that decades of U.S. manufacturing layoffs have created the presumption that the work is all being offshored. The National Association of Manufacturers, or NAM, has worked since 2005 to counteract the looming skills shortage by raising interest in manufacturing and stressing the skills of production workers.

The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce estimates there will be 47 million job openings in the decade ending in 2018. Nearly half will require only an associate's degree.

Some businesses spend tens of thousands of dollars to train new employees. Others shift manpower from factory to factory. AAR said it addressed a shortage of 125 aircraft mechanics and sheet metal technicians at its Oklahoma City aircraft maintenance hub by temporarily diverting some work to its Miami facility.

AAR is working with the American Association of Community Colleges and the NAM to find educators, government agencies, and nonprofits to help fill its open positions across the country.

AAR has worked with universities and community colleges near its major operations in Oklahoma City, Indianapolis and Hot Springs, Ark., to produce the workers it needs. AAR said it offers on-the-job training in Indianapolis and tuition reimbursement of up to $10,500 to graduates of an Oklahoma aeronautics college in exchange for a commitment to work for the company for at least three years.

The company, which employs about 7,000 worldwide, is hoping more states spur community colleges to adapt education offerings to local employment needs, Storch said.

AAR government affairs vice president Cheryle Jackson praised Lenoir Community College and Wayne Community College for their flexibility in developing the 90-day welding certificate program and letting workers move on to learning more on the job while drawing a paycheck.

"This state is a real model for the kind of partnership between industry and community colleges," Jackson said. "It varies from state to state."

The country's third-largest community college system has been offering job training customized to an employer's needs since 1958, when North Carolina began offering it as an incentive to companies shopping around for a location for its operations, said Maureen Little, associate vice president for customized training program. The 58-campus community college system last year trained more than 27,100 workers among its 844,000 students.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio