Demand for aircraft technicians is expected to soar and high school students, and their teachers, are taking notice.
This was the message that resonated among VSB teachers, during a tour of BCIT's Aerospace facility on April 28th. Led by Gord Turner, an associate dean for BCIT, the teachers and students learned how lucrative careers in aerospace trades will take off within the decade as older technicians begin to retire, creating a skills gap that must be filled.
"So many students and young people are unaware of the opportunities offered in trades," says Wendy Gilmour, the VSB's Apprenticeship Teacher. "We're working hard to promote these careers, because there's major demand."
"Companies are doing everything they can to court our students," says Turner, pointing to the donations of aircraft and components from major aerospace firms. "They want students who can work on aircraft right out of the classroom. We give them that."
Prospects in one area are particularly good. Students entering the Gas Turbine Technician Certificate program can expect to be taken on as apprentices right out of BCIT.
"We're pretty much at 100% employment," says Turner. "Companies are climbing over each other to get onto campus and recruit our students."
Having these skills can also translate to opportunities outside of Canada.
"I've always known about the portability of aircraft mechanics," says Gilmour. "You can take these skills all over the world. These mechanics are necessary nearly everywhere."
With VSB teachers in tow, Turner toured the group through BCIT's state-of-the-art facility and its impressive glass-lined hangar. Joining him was Steve Mullis, chief instructor for Aircraft Maintenance. Built in 2007, the Richmond-based facility is home to nearly 20 aircraft and helicopters.
"We're already running out of space for planes! Companies keep donating them to us," laughs Mullis. "We do hope to begin replacing some of the older craft with newer models."
After viewing a number of planes, including an entire Boeing 737, teachers and students gathered around one of several computer stations on the hangar floor. These stations are one of the ways BCIT keeps training current.
"We stress a workplace-like environment. Students can access the most up-to-date materials, can checklist jobs and print schematics," says Mullis "It's exactly like the modern workplaces that students will enter."
Lining the hangar are classrooms and workshops devoted to specific aircraft components such as engines and hydraulics. Each workshop features the needed equipment to repair and maintain these parts.
"This creates a more focused learning environment," says Turner. "Students typically spend four weeks in each room, before going onto the next category."
Mechanics aren't the only aerospace jobs in demand. As the group entered the school's 'radio labs,' Turner told teachers that expertise in avionics, the electrical and navigational technologies used in airplanes, has become ever more important for airlines.
"Avionics has mushroomed in the past decade and airlines need to keep up," nods Turner. "Aircraft are being refurbished with all the new technologies and capable people are in demand."
He went on to say that once apprenticeships have ended, an avionics technician can earn between $40 - 50 per hour. He also highlighted the transferability of avionics knowledge. Other industries, such as rail and public transport use similar technologies.
"I think this tour exposed our teachers to opportunities they didn't know existed," says Gilmour. "They're going to be able to come back to their students with even more career suggestions."
Gilmour says that a student in the VSB's Tupper Tech program will be entering the Aircraft Technician 'M' program and hopes more students will follow.
For more information and entrance requirements, visit BCIT's Aerospace Webpage.