The Salina Airport Authority has been awarded a $3,325,000 State of Kansas Aviation Opportunity and Funded Training (ALOFT) program grant. The funds will be used to accelerate the growth of the Authority’s Aviation Innovation and Maintenance (AIM) Center of Excellence established to meet the community’s growing need to recruit and train aviation maintenance workers.
ALOFT grant funding was made possible by the cooperative efforts of the Salina and Salina County economic development team that includes the City of Salina, Saline County, Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, the Salina Community Economic Development Organization, K-State Salina, and Kansas Wesleyan University.
The grant will be used to grow the AIM Center of Excellence apprenticeship program to address the skilled worker shortage, hindering the growth and competitiveness of the aviation maintenance industry at the Salina Airport.
“There must be a dedicated means to develop a Salina aviation-aerospace workforce,” said Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority. “The AIM Center will now be able to grow the local aviation maintenance workforce.”
“This is definitely the start of looking at different and innovative methods of recruiting and training a workforce,” said Renee Duxler, president and CEO of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, which will be providing the marketing end of promoting Salina to job prospects in Kansas and surrounding states in Middle America.
“This program very specifically targets the aviation maintenance industry,” Duxler said, “but I think there is a lot of potential for it to be replicated across other industries and partner with other organizations and employers.”
With the Chamber’s “Imagine Salina” program already engulfed in regional workforce development and building momentum, the AIM Center “will include this training opportunity in marketing and recruitment,” she said. “The other piece of that is the Chamber has developed significant relationships with organizations like KansasWorks that does workforce development and training as well as area nonprofits — such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Saint Francis Ministries — that will help us engage with under-employed and disadvantaged youths.”
According to Rogers, apprenticeship opportunities will align with current SAA tenants, such as 1 Vision Aviation, Schilling Aviation Services, Garmin, K-State Salina, Avflight Salina, and SkyWest. “Additionally, this program supports the growing aviation technician needs for current and future aviation partnerships with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., and Tyrell Corporation. .”
AIM Center apprenticeship programs will include training for sheet metal specialists, composites repairers, along with coatings and paint, and electronics and avionics technicians.
The AIM Center’s goal is to introduce aviation maintenance career opportunities to 150 individuals per year. The initial training will enable those individuals to advance to either apprenticeship opportunities or enroll in related programs at either K-State Salina or Salina Area Technical College.
If he could hire even half that many in a year, Jim Sponder, 1 Vision president and CEO, said he would be “tickled pink. The AIM Center growth is going to be helpful.”
The AIM Center’s focus is on aviation and aerospace workforce development, said Lindsey Dreiling, co-owner and CEO of Dreiling Aviation Services of Salina. She helped build the team and apply for the grant.
“The lack of skilled workers is what’s impeding growth and competitiveness in the aviation industry,” she said. “Salina will be more competitive attracting and training aviation maintenance workers.”