Growing Aerospace Cluster Builds Up Its Own Talent Pipeline

An innovative partnership among aerospace companies, educational institutions and regional leaders will develop more engineers, scientists and technicians for the growing aerospace industry that is facing a national talent shortage.

The Rockford region, a leading aerospace cluster in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, has created the Joint Institute of Engineering & Technology-Aerospace (JiET-A). JiET-A provides high school and college students in the region a path to engineering degrees, including high-quality paid internships at leading aerospace companies. The initiative was announced at a news conference on May 23, 2012 at Kaney Aerospace.

The aerospace cluster includes more than 200 companies, from Boeing’s corporate headquarters in Chicago to four tier-one suppliers in Rockford and numerous companies up and down the supply chain. JiET-A is the latest example of the Rockford area’s government and educational leaders working with companies to ensure their business success in the 21st century. Companies made it clear to community leaders that developing and recruiting qualified aerospace engineers, scientists and technicians is a key to their growth.

How it works
The region’s new Joint Institute of Engineering & Technology-Aerospace (JiET-A) connects aerospace companies to four colleges and universities where post-secondary students participate in high-quality internships that are integrated into their academic curriculum. When JiET-A students graduate, they bring valuable skills and experience into the regional aerospace workforce. One-on-one mentors from aerospace companies are also part of JiET-A. Students can also apply for scholarships from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois and the participating higher educational institutions. JiET-A enhances students’ experiences and guides them to successfully transition from school to the aerospace workforce.

The participating colleges and universities are Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Northern Illinois University, Rockford College and Rock Valley College. Internship opportunities are available at B/E Aerospace, Comply365, GE Aviation, Hamilton Sundstrand (a United Technologies company), Kaney Aerospace, Woodward and more.

Industry’s Role
Representatives from the region’s two largest tier-ones, Hamilton Sundstrand and Woodward, are part of the JiET-A steering committee. Hamilton Sundstrand provided a loaned executive to help coordinate the initiative and recruit companies for internships and mentorships. The following aerospace company representatives spoke at the May 23 news conference that was attended by 100 community leaders.

GE Aviation Systems General Manager Carlos Miller said, “We are quite impressed with what has been created, the JiET-A Initiative. As a member of the aerospace industry, we welcome this innovative and collaborative way of taking control and helping to shape the future. GE Aviation is excited about adding interns through this effort and we know it will be good for the entire region.”

“The aerospace industry is facing a perfect storm with the engineering shortage and the long-term growth mode of the industry,” Hamilton Sundstrand Electric Systems Director of Engineering Tom Gillis added. “The JiET-A program will enable our region to develop our own technical workforce to meet these growth opportunities, and to continue providing the good-paying jobs that improve our local economy and quality of life.”

Woodward Aircraft Turbine Systems Vice President of R & D and Systems Terry Voskuil noted, “Woodward is excited about this initiative. We need to create and fill a pipeline of engineering talent to propel our future growth in Rockford.”

Higher Education’s Role
Northern Illinois University’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Dean Promod Vohra, Ph.D., said at the news conference, “NIU and the higher education institutions are delighted to be part of JiET-A and to expand our partnerships with each other and with the aerospace companies. This is a new level of support, practical experience and mentorship for students in the region, as we integrate academic curriculum with hands-on internships at the companies that are heavily invested in this initiative. NIU is committed to providing seamless education to students coming out of the JIET-A program and has already developed 2+2 articulation agreements for our engineering programs with Rock Valley College.”

JiET-A Goal
To have 200 students in the pipeline so up to 40 graduates annually go to work for local aerospace companies.

JiET-A Background
JiET-A was formed by 17 organizations that signed a Declaration supporting the need to collaborate, to connect students’ academic curriculum with work experiences. This includes innovative internships, mentorships and scholarships that lead to employment in the aerospace industry.

The Rockford Area Economic Development Council formed the Rockford Area Aerospace Network, RAAN, to help local aerospace companies collaborate and grow at a faster rate in this high-growth, high-wage industry. JiET-A is driven by RAAN, a group of 20 private aerospace companies.

JiET-A is an innovative, community-based initiative to significantly increase the Rockford, Illinois region’s aerospace talent pipeline. It combines higher education with real-world work experience at leading aerospace companies in the Rockford area. Students enrolled in a JiET-A higher-education institution are selected by a participating aerospace company for internships, matched with a mentor and may apply for scholarships. The participating colleges and universities are Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Northern Illinois University, Rockford College and Rock Valley College. Internship opportunities are available at B/E Aerospace, Comply365, GE Aviation, Hamilton Sundstrand, Kaney Aerospace, Woodward and more.


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