According to Elmore County Schools career tech director Jimmy Hull, the school system decided to add an aviation program last school year after recognizing the high demand for young workers in the field.
Hull said the school system chose to add aviation to Elmore County Technical Center as the result of a conversation between the Elmore County Board of Education and Auburn University.
“We began to realize that a retirement boom is going to leave open positions in the aviation industry,” Hull said.
James Stough, an aviation industry veteran, was hired last year as the aviation program instructor.
Stough said two of his students who graduated in 2019 are pursuing aviation studies at the college level.
“One is going to Embry-Riddle in Daytona and the other is going to Alabama Aviation College down in Ozark,” he said. “Hopefully, going forward we can work with Auburn University and get some scholarship programs through them in the future. We have to get the program built up first.”
Stough said one of his initial goals is to generate more interest in aviation among young students.
“I had a group of ninth-grade students tour and I told them there are more jobs in aviation that stay on the ground and never get in the air,” he said. “You don’t have the leave the ground. My initial job is to dispel some myths, generate some interest and gather equipment.”
His efforts have grown the program from 28 students the first year to 40 students this year.
“As I get more hands-on things in here, more students will take the class,” he said. “That’s where we draw our interest with the hands-on experience.”
Right now, the classes have had the chance to fly drones, build and launch model rockets and learn about the science of flight and his experiences in the aviation workforce.
Stough is hoping the program will receive a flight simulator.
“We do want to train pilots to come out of here,” he said. “Some of my students are working on their private pilot license. We want to turn pilots out, mechanics, air traffic controllers and engineers. We need the tools to do that.”
Stough holds two degrees in aviation, previously worked as a lead aircraft motor technician at a Rolls-Royce maintenance center located in Fairhope and maintained large commercial aircraft.
“Typically, we would have one of those large aircraft on the ground for three months,” he said. “That’s two shifts, working 10-hour shifts. You’d have as many as 80 people working on one airplane.”
According to Stough, one reason he left a well-paying technical job to teach is because he noticed there were very few young workers coming to the industry.
“I’m looking around and there is a trickle of young people,” he said. “Out of a shop of 100 we maybe had three people under the age of 25. There is just not a flow of people coming in.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics backs up Stough’s claim.
According to a report recently published by the organization, aviation mechanical jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 3% and pilot jobs are expected to grow at a rate of 6%.
The number of open jobs for both occupations will be much higher than their respective growth percentages due to the workforce expected to retire from these occupations within the next 10 years.
“All of our mail, all of our packages fly at some time,” he said. “You see the trucks delivering mail. Those packages flew at some point in time. It would really hurt our infrastructure if we started losing pilots and flights had to be shut down.”
According to Stough, the aviation program does not currently offer dual enrollment courses or certifications through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The program does offer studies to earn a Small Unmanned Ariel Vehicle Pilot license through the FAA.