Education - Page 5 - In the air or on the ground

- Page 5
In the air or on the ground
In-demand technology careers abound

By E. Rose Scarff, Contributing Writer

One of our primary objectives is trying to help individuals become aware not only of the need, but that the occupation even exists,” says Bernard Adams,campus director at the Hagerstown campus of the Pittsburg Institute of Aeronautics (PIA), speaking of their aviation maintenance technology (AMT) program. Planes of all sizes need maintenance for safety purposes, but because the work is done where the general public does not see it, this is a career opportunity that goes largely overlooked.

Aviation maintenance technicians are responsible for the regular checking and troubleshooting of aircraft and making repairs as needed. Students who are successful in the field need to be detail-oriented to make sure work is done to exact specifications. They also need to possess  good dexterity, since they will be working with their hands, and possess good observation skills. Since they will be diagnosing complex problems, they will need to be analytical and possess troubleshooting skills.

There is such a shortage of qualified mechanics that graduates of the AMT program have no problem finding a job. The coursework prepares students to take the FAA Airframe and Powerplant Certification exams they need to work in aviation maintenance. There is an oral, practical and written examination in each of three sections: General, Powerplant and Airframe.

“This kind of work is not for everyone, but it is a life changing opportunity for those who might not have thought about it,” says Steven D. Sabold, director of marketing and IT at PIA. The field is beginning to attract women. “If we could match the populations of male technicians with female technicians, we would solve the shortage,” says Sabold.

The companies who seek the expertise of PIA graduates are not all in the airline industry. The list of industries hiring graduates ranges from aviation and space to manufacturing of all types. “Students have their choice of being hired anywhere in the country,” says Adams of the job opportunities available locally in Maryland or elsewhere.

Another career path that is rapidly gaining presence is drone piloting. “We had just started our program when the two hurricanes hit in Florida and Texas in 2017,” says Chet Andes, coordinator of IT and workforce development at Carroll Community College. “We started to receive phone calls because there was a shortage of drone pilots certified to do the kind of reconnaissance and inspection surveys needed after those two hurricanes.”

That sparked a look at what they were training toward. At the time they were preparing students to take the FAA Remote Pilot certification exams and they still do. But now students also take classes in digital video editing and Photoshop.

“Students are assigned their own practice drone as part of flight school,” says Andes. “They have to log 50 hours of flight time, so we are not just theory based. That makes our school stand apart.” The hours are logged in flight school classes, during internships or on their own. “The practice drone is theirs to keep,” says Andes. “The cost is included the course.”

All students learn to go through the pre-flight checklist. They learn to spot issues with their drone, as well as the camera. They learn to update their firmware so the software that goes between their iPad and their drone works properly. All courses are offered in the evenings, Saturdays and Sundays, since flight school needs more daylight hours.

Part of the time students fly to gather data and then they go back to the computer lab to analyze it. As the capabilities of drones continue to advance, and FAA rules concerning them keep changing, courses are constantly being updated and developed to stay current.

Some students are interested in flying drones as a second career. Younger students are drawn to it as an opportunity to work when and where they want. All are drawn to the fact that flying a drone is done outdoors. “There aren’t many technical jobs where you can be outside and not chained to a desk all day,” says Andes.

Engineering students in Morgan State University’s Industrial Robotics and Automated Manufacturing (IRAM) laboratory traditionally have been learning about robotics and how to program and set up manufacturing machines. “The robotics work has led us into work with drones in the last five years or so,” says Richard A. Pitts, Ph.D., director of IRAM, and interim chairperson and associate professor of Morgan’s industrial and systems engineering department.

“We are starting freshman on drones, to get them interested,” says Pitts. Through a grant from the Department of Transportation, students are working on a project that would use drones to deliver food and goods.

“The current project I am working on involves applying drone technology to different real-world problems, specifically campus safety,” says George Gillem, a senior industrial and systems engineering major. “Working in the lab and on this project has given me experience in research, applying learned concepts and presenting my work to others.”

Besides the work on drones, the department continues to do its work with robotics. Students have entered robots they have designed in competitions that NASA sponsors. They have done very well in these competitions, considering they are a smaller school without a lot of funding. Early robots were made of wood and plexiglass. A 3D printer now makes creation of their designs easier.

The department continues its focus on learning about all sorts of manufacturing machines. Students work with a range of machines like those they might encounter in real world manufacturing where not everything is the latest design.

Pitts also emphasizes that being an engineer is not only about math. “Reading and writing skills are also important since engineers must be able to not only solve problems, but to communicate and work with other people.” This is especially true for career advancement.

Students are given the opportunity for internships in the manufacturing world. Usually these are in the summer, but Pitts is encouraging students to participate in longer internships of six months. These internships usually lead to job offers. •

Endless opportunity

For anyone looking for a high demand career where students have their choice of immediate job opportunities upon graduation, the schools featured in this article can prepare them. There is currently a shortage of qualified aviation maintenance technicians, drone operators and manufacturing engineers. Requirements going in would be an analytical mind and openness to continued learning as these fields continue to develop.

The Hagerstown campus of the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics (PIA) offers an aviation maintenance technology program. The course can be completed in 16 months (four terms of four months each). Students are prepared for all facets of aircraft maintenance. They get to work on actual planes and are taught by instructors with experience in the field.

Carroll Community College offers a workforce training certificate as a commercial UAS (drone) pilot. Students learn to fly a variety of drones in real life situations. They learn about the use of drones for data collection, workforce safety and other applications. Opportunities as a drone pilot can be found all over the country in areas from agriculture to search and rescue to security.

At Morgan State University, engineering students working in the Industrial Robotics and Automated Manufacturing (IRAM) laboratory learn about drones, robots and manufacturing machines. Students can design a product and test it in the IRAM lab. The lab is very hands on. Engineering graduates will have the knowledge and experience to work in a variety of manufacturing businesses. •