A local partnership to produce more aerospace workers

Portland Community College's Tom Laxson (center) shows student Kayler Randall (right) one of PCC's jet engines as Horizon's Archie Vega assists. (Photo: PCC)

According to a report by Boeing, in the next two decades the aviation industry will face a dire shortage of skilled workers to maintain the North American fleet as demand for aviation technicians will hit about 192,000 and 208,000 for pilots. Nationwide, that’s a huge hole to fill.

In Oregon, Portland Community College (PCC) is leading the way on several aviation training fronts. In 2020, the college partnered with a local school district and other key partners to create the dual-credit Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone (O-ACE) Program for high school students interested in careers as aviation maintenance technicians, avionics technicians or professional pilots.

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This year, PCC’s Aviation Maintenance Technology Program (AMT) partnered with Horizon Air Industries to develop the Horizon Technician Development Program. The new effort provides students with industry-relevant training and employment opportunities. And, in turn, provides Horizon with a source of highly qualified applicants for its aircraft mechanic positions.

“Horizon’s influence and expertise elevate our entire program,” said Tom Laxson, AMT faculty chair.  “The fact of the matter is that the technology and equipment of commercial aviation is financially exclusive. The importance of this relationship cannot be overstated.”

A growing partnership

The partnership this year had its first cohort of six students begin at PCC. The Horizon program focuses on student recruitment and scholarship opportunities (up to $12,200 per student) for enrolled PCC students to offset the costs of earning the two-year AMT degree. In addition to student learning, the partnership allows the college’s faculty to access Horizon’s technical training. Horizon also routinely donates used equipment and tooling to the program.

“With our commitments and our development programs with PCC, it assures us a positive pipeline of local talented mechanics going into the future to ensure both Horizon and Alaska [Maintenance Operations] can meet our maintenance program’s FAA requirements,” said Archie Vega, director of maintenance and planning with Horizon Air/M&E Division.

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As shown by Boeing’s report, this union comes at a time when the aviation industry is in significant demand for new certificated airframe and powerplant mechanics. PCC’s program provides students with the required experience and education to qualify to sit for the federal certification exams. PCC, and schools like it in the country, are the primary means by which the aviation industry gains new workers.  

“It’s exceptionally vital that we continue to matriculate new technicians, and through the partnership with Horizon, we can continue to lead nationally, as has been the case for some time,” Laxson added.

Seeking something different

Al Coleman, 31, is one of the six students in the first-ever cohort. The Indiana native’s interest in aviation was sparked as a youth after his first flight on a commercial aircraft. In his previous career, Coleman spent all day on a computer in an office and felt the need to switch things up and work with his hands. He said the opportunity at PCC and with Horizon was a perfect match.

“Horizon Air has been my top choice for a potential future employer since I began the AMT program at PCC,” Coleman said. “I am looking for a place where I can grow and thrive, and everything I have learned about Horizon suggests that is exactly what I will do. It was also important to me that my job would have a serious component, or give me a sense of accomplishment and respectability.

“Aviation maintenance fits the bill and is at the forefront of providing safety where it can matter most,” he continued. “Oh, and it’s really cool.”

About the Author

James Hill
James Hill is the public relations manager at Portland Community College in Oregon.