It’s exactly the kind of opportunity Robert Funk needed after he was laid off last spring.
“This is the first time in a long time that I feel engaged and excited about a possible job versus going to work just for the sake of going to work,” said Funk. “It’s the kind of thing I do when I’m not working—building things, putting things together, so to have the chance to do it and get paid for it, that sounds great to me.”
He’s talking about Tarrant County College’s Aerospace Manufacturing Training Program (AMTP), which creates a pipeline of workers with the basic qualifications and skills needed to enter the aerospace manufacturing industry. TCC Corporate Solutions & Economic Development created the six-week, skills-based program under the direction of the DFW Regional Aerospace Consortium, an industry-led collaboration of regional employers including Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter, Triumph Aerostructures (formerly Vought Aircraft Industries), Airbus Helicopter and other aerospace employers, as well as Alliance Airport, Hillwood Properties, Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center and the Fort Worth and Arlington Chambers of Commerce. The Consortium is managed by Workforce Solutions for Tarrant County.
“A combination of new technologies and increased production has put a strain on the existing aerospace workforce,” explained Jennifer Hawkins, director of Corporate Solutions & Economic Development. “For example, as Lockheed Martin prepares to increase the production output of the F-35, they are looking to hire hundreds of new employees; they added more than 1,500 in 2017. The demand has trickled down to suppliers as well, making it difficult for employers to locate individuals with the required knowledge and skills.”
That’s where TCC comes in. Corporate Solutions & Economic Development is the division of the College that provides customized training for employers throughout North Texas. Professional instructors use industry-standard curricula or work directly with a company, or in this case a consortium of employers, to develop unique training in areas such as computer skills, management and leadership, language, safety and industry-specific technical training.
AMTP courses (pictured left) delivered at the TCC Opportunity Center, a workforce training site in southeast Fort Worth, include Aerospace Manufacturing Shop Practices, Aviation Drawings, Composite Bonding, Aircraft Structures and Aircraft Electronics and Installation. The current training is the second iteration of AMTP; the program was initially created by the DFW Regional Aerospace Consortium with a $1 million Texas Workforce Commission grant entitled, “Meeting Industries’ Critical Skill Needs—Aerospace and Defense.”
“As our industry was experiencing growth in the early- to mid-2000s, the Consortium developed this program to address the manufacturing workforce needs for the regional aerospace industry,” said Jon Gustafson, Lockheed Martin’s economic development lead. “It was a huge success.”
When demand surged in recent years, the Consortium once again turned to TCC, which led the instructional development effort, along with the Consortium’s Skills Committee, to revise the curriculum to incorporate new aircraft manufacturing technologies and processes. The training is short term and affordable, and some students may be eligible for grant support. The program is also intensive, designed to simulate the workplace environment as closely as possible.
In addition to preparing prospective workers, TCC partners with Lockheed Martin to train existing employees. In 2016, Lockheed Martin and TCC Corporate Solutions & Economic Development secured more than $3 million from the Texas Workforce Commission’s Skills Development Fund grant program to train current workers for F-35 production. Some 2,200 employees, including technicians, assemblers, mechanics and engineers, receive TCC-delivered instruction in areas such as sealant processes and plumbing installation. TCC trainers conduct the classes on site at Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics facility in west Fort Worth.
“To facilitate this training, Corporate Solutions underwent a major instructor recruitment drive and partnered with the training department at Lockheed Martin to ensure the instructors were up to date and able to deliver the most advanced aerospace training,” said Hawkins, describing it as “huge for us to have the confidence of such a large company.”
The current Skills Development Fund grant runs through April 2018; Lockheed Martin and TCC will apply for additional funding to continue the training. In addition, there are plans to expand the entities’ collaboration to include a new F-35-specific training program for TCC aviation students who are pursuing FAA Airframe and Powerplant certificates. The program will be offered by TCC at the Erma C. Johnson Hadley Northwest Center for Excellence in Aviation, Transportation and Logistics at Alliance Airport.
“The partnership with TCC has been of tremendous value to Lockheed Martin’s training operation and manufacturing workforce,” noted Gustafson.
The partnership also is of value to Robert Funk, who is applying for jobs at Lockheed Martin and other employers in the DFW Regional Aerospace Consortium.
In AMTP, we are working with people who have up-to-the-minute experience. And it’s not what you think of when you hear line production. It’s not ‘insert tab A into slot B’ for eight hours. The work and the training are very engaging and stimulating. It’s not about getting things done the fastest; it’s about getting things done to perfection.
The training process has even given Funk a new career aspiration.
“I can see in the years to come possibly getting into a training role myself,” he said. “To be recognized as an expert in this area—that’s the goal.”