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Measures to expand aerospace training in Oklahoma advance

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – Piqued interest in meeting the growing workforce needs of the state’s second-largest industry is a driver behind two measures to expand aerospace training, one within Metro Technology Centers and the other passing through the state Senate.

Plans to relocate the aerospace training facility of Metro Technology Centers, a career and technology center serving the Oklahoma City area, will be moving forward at a faster pace after an $80 million bondpassed Tuesday with 71 percent of votes.

The Metro Tech training program is currently housed in a facility near Will Rogers World Airport, but the new location on S. Bryant Avenue will be closer to Tinker Air Force Base, Boeing and other aerospace companies.

Brian Ruttman, Metro Tech’s associate superintendent for business and operational services, said $30 million of the bond measure will go toward building the new facility. The rest of the bond will be used to equip the facility.

At the state Capitol, Senate Bill 432 would authorize the State Board of Career and Technology Education to create a statewide aerospace education and training program. SB 432 passed out of the Senate Education and Appropriations committees and will be heard on the Senate floor next week, said Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, the bill’s author.

Noting the aerospace industry’s rapid growth, Pugh said the bill was borne from a concern about a workforce shortage in the industry.

“If we can’t meet the labor needs of Tinker Air Force Base as well as the other military installations and then private sector companies that are doing work around the aerospace industry, at some point, those jobs will go away and they will relocate to another state,” Pugh said.

Ruttman said while other factors, such as curriculum changes, have contributed to Metro Tech’s program expansion, the need for qualified personnel may be the biggest factor.

“The demand is there, it’s just a matter of getting the training to the folks who have a desire to work in that industry,” Ruttman said.

An economic impact study of aviation and aerospace conducted by the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission and the Federal Aviation Commission, released in August 2017, cited the industry, outside of airports, for the creation of 58,958 jobs.

Airport support included 74,002 jobs while military aviation creates 72,648 jobs in the state. Combined, the study found 240,400 jobs in the state supported by or benefiting from the aviation or aerospace industry – or 14.5 percent of non-farm employment in the state.

Pugh said this study heightened interest in the industry.

“This is a way for us to take advantage of natural advantages we have in the state, diversify and grow our economy, attract new businesses and for the businesses that are already here, give them an opportunity to continue to invest here,” Pugh said.

Boeing communications specialist Laura Swift said the focus on the aerospace industry is good for the company.

“Any of these investments are positive for us. Building that workforce that is skilled in manufacturing techniques is critical for our suppliers based in the state as well,” Swift said.

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