Wanted: A New Generation Of High-Tech Aviation Workers : All Tech Considered Millions of U.S. factory jobs have been lost in the past decade. Now, in North Carolina, high school students are being encouraged to think about taking manufacturing jobs. But this isn't the furniture-making or textile labor of generations past — it's a new kind of highly technical work in aviation.
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Wanted: A New Generation Of High-Tech Aviation Workers

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Wanted: A New Generation Of High-Tech Aviation Workers

Wanted: A New Generation Of High-Tech Aviation Workers

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Now, building those airplanes has been an important source of American manufacturing jobs, especially because the U.S. has been losing almost 3 million jobs in that sector over the past decade. With that decline, it's become more of a challenge to find workers willing to go into manufacturing in the first place.

So in North Carolina, officials have started a new recruiting effort, encouraging students to think about high-tech manufacturing and aviation. North Carolina Public Radio's Jeff Tiberii reports.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Across North Carolina, many license plates read: First in Flight - a tribute to Orville and Wilbur Wright. Their plane first flew 110 years ago. Today, the state has one of the nation's busiest airports, and dozens of aviation companies. But finding workers - not so easy.


TIBERII: TIMCO is an aviation maintenance repair and overhaul company based in Greensboro. On this day, about a dozen workers are stripping down a Boeing 737 and putting it back together. Kip Blakely is a vice president with the company.


KIP BLAKELY: It takes a lot of people, and that's something - quite honestly - we're struggling with. We're struggling with finding folks with the right skills, the right certification to come to work here at TIMCO.

TIBERII: So to promote the industry, TIMCO is partnering with local chambers of commerce. Marketing videos directed at teenagers are now airing during football games and prime-time sitcoms.


TIBERII: About 1.6 million people live in the Piedmont Triad, which is also home to about 40 aviation companies. Pat Danahy is with Greensboro's Chamber of Commerce. He says in addition to targeting students, they're talking to their parents.

PAT DANAHY: One of the challenges that we're working on right now is getting in front of parents and students, to show them it's a totally different manufacturing environment - if you will - than the basic manufacturing that their fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers were involved in.

TIBERII: And it appears to be working. High Point, N.C., is a city nicknamed the Furniture Capital of the World. But that industry is no longer a leading employer. High Point is now home to a specialized high school aviation academy.


TIBERII: Students get to use flight simulators, wind tunnels and 3-D printers. Temoor Khan is one of about 120 students in the program. His interest in aviation took off during his first flight - from Pakistan to the U.S. - seven years ago.

TEMOOR KHAN: When I came here, I thought of being a doctor. Then I changed my mind. I said, I wanted to be an avionics technician.

TIBERII: Inside a cluttered, crowded classroom, two dozen students work in small groups. They're putting popsicle sticks together before their structures get tested. Kathy Melious teaches the aviation fundamentals class.

KATHY MELIOUS: We're going to try and see how strong this bridge has been built.

TIBERII: Students can earn an associate's degree while in high school, and receive aviation certifications. They're interested in becoming mechanics, pilots and aviation engineers. Richard Aboulafia, of the Washington, D.C.-based Teal Group, says it's a new breed of manufacturing jobs.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: It's become far more about, well, software engineers programming machine tools. That's resulted in fewer jobs, but better jobs and of course, an industry that's far more dependent on talented and experienced professionals.

TIBERII: It has been more than a century since the Wright Brothers brought flight to North Carolina. Today, workers fix GPS systems, update control panels and like Orville and Wilbur, are working to keep the state a leader in the aviation industry.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Greensboro, N.C.

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