[caption id="attachment_232828" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Over the last decade, Del Tech's aviation program has grown its reputation so that companies like Lockheed Martin, GE Aviation and Boeing have recruited students. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE TECHNICAL COMMUNITY COLLEGE[/caption]
GEORGETOWN — In a hangar at the Delaware Coastal Airport, Delaware Technical Community College is training the next generation of mechanics, all who are courted by local companies like ALOFT AeroArchitects to multinational firms like Boeing.Now in its 13th year, Del Tech’saviation maintenance program has a waiting list for its 24 slots. Most of the students come from Delaware and Maryland and range in ages, and are all eager to learn skills in fabricating and maintaining airframes and engine teardown and build-up in the 18-month course.As the years passed, Del Tech’s reputation in producing high-caliber mechanics has grown. Del Tech Aviation Maintenance Department Chair Scott Simon said that’s because, in small part, the aviation world is small and more than ever companies are looking for employees. A recent Boeing study forecasts the need for 690,00 technicians worldwide, with 125,000 in North America in the next 19 years.“When you’re putting out really good people in the workforce, word of mouth goes fast. Pretty soon I’m getting emails and calls from places I didn’t know existed. We’re in contact with about 18 people [from various companies] ranging from Pennsylvania all the way out to Alaska and Washington state,” Scott said.The most recent Del Tech maintenance graduation class was visited by a representative from Boeing’s Seattle office. Scott believes one student took an offer, complete with relocation fees, from the company.“You wouldn’t expect the company that far away to hear about us in little Delaware, but it’s a testament to the quality of people we’re putting out,” he added.The birth of the aviation maintenance program itself can be traced to the Delaware way of doing business. Back in 2006, ALOFT AeroArchitects (then known as PATS Aircraft Systems) told Sussex County officials that they were struggling to find mechanics and were heavily relying on contractors. At the time, PATS had 175 jobs waiting to be filled.Del Tech conducted a market study and found that with the number of aviation companies in the First State, it warranted an associate degree. It was the first of its time. Sussex County partnered with the community college to provide more than $1.2 million in funding to buy and renovate a 9,750-square-foot hangar to host the program.It expanded in 2010 when the county granted a 30-year lease for the Delaware Coastal Airport. Joe Hudson donated $1 million to build a new facility focused on engine mechanics, and Delaware’s federal delegation also secured grant funding for equipment.“Our mission at Del Tech is to be responsive to economic and workforce needs of the state, and this was a perfect example of that. Someone told us of a need, and we realized it was much bigger than one company,” Del Tech Vice President and Georgetown Campus Director Bobbi Barends said. “It’s all about partnerships.”Today, Del Tech aviation maintenance graduates are typically hired by Piedmont Airlines, a regional airline. But other companies that have recruited through the community college, past and present, include Ocean Aviation, Alaska Airlines, Hawaii Airlines, Northrop Grumman, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Arizona, Lockheed Martin, and GE Aviation.