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OR College Aviation Program Could Set Technicians’ Numbers Flying

A program in Oregon aims to ramp up the number of technicians in aviation just as the industry is predicting a major shortage.

Over the next two decades, according to a report from Boeing, the United States could have 192,000 fewer aviation technicians than it needs. The two-year Aviation Maintenance Technology Program at Portland Community College could help address this gap.

Thomas Laxson, faculty department chair of the program, saw the effects of the shortage and said it could benefit students.

“I have employers calling my desk phone daily asking to come and speak with our students to offer them jobs,” he said. “It’s manifest in the way that the majority of our students have job offers before they’ve even graduated the program.”

This year, the program partnered with Horizon Air, sister company to Alaska Airlines, to create the Horizon Technician Development Program. It provides more than $12,000 in scholarship money and a guaranteed job after graduation. Laxson said technicians can start at $30 an hour.

The industry also needs more pilots. The same Boeing report projected the North American fleet will need an additional 208,000 pilots by 2040. Laxson said he believes one reason for the shortages of pilots and maintenance crews is that technical education has been de-emphasized.

“An entire generation of people – frankly, my generation – whose parents all told us, ‘University, university, university,’ and we didn’t see a lot of people entering the trades,” he said. “And so, there’s this generational skip that’s happened. And as a result we’ve got this very strong, current need for additional folks.”

Portland Community College also is trying to fill this gap by reaching out to high school students, such as with its Oregon Aerospace Careers for Everyone Program. Laxson said the program isn’t just an opportunity to learn about airplanes and how they work, but also how to think inside of the aviation industry.

“It is really a remarkable industry in the sense that it changes you,” he said. “For you to be successful in it, it’s going to change you. You turn into a checklist person, and you turn into a very detail-oriented person.”

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

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