Competitiveness in Aerospace Industry Requires Education Input

Article excerpt

For Oklahoma to remain competitive in the growing global aerospace industry, the state must have a coordinated program of higher education designed to meet the needs of employers, according to a two-year study of the state's education programs.

Many of the recommendations offered by the blue-ribbon task force are under review, and some "probably will be instituted within the next three years," said Kermit McMurry, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs for the State Regents for Higher Education.

Not only must higher education be involved in the cooperative effort, but high schools and vocational-technical education centers also must be brought into the picture for a well-rounded program, McMurry said.

"Instead of duplicating programs that already are in place at one institution, we should look at coordinating our efforts, using the existing equipment for more than one school," he said. "Sometimes a community college or vo-tech may have the hardware for something that a university or four-year school would like to offer. It would make more sense to utilize that equipment by both schools instead of using taxpayer money to buy more."

Regents probably will look closely at many of the recommendations because of the people involved in the task force. It was chaired by retired U.S. Air Force Gen. James E. Hill, now president of the Olive Co. of Colorado Springs; William J. Wallisch, editor and director of the Education Assistance Corp. of Aberdeen, S.D.; Walt Coleman, president of the Regional Airline Association of Washington, D.C.; retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth L. Tallman, an aviation consultant based in Ormond Beach, Fla.; aviation consultant John E. Krings of Arlington, Va.; retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Billy Bowden, executive director of Oklahoma City's Kirkpatrick Center and former commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base; H.C. McClure, director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center in Oklahoma City; and aviation consultant Paul A. Whelan, of Belleville, Ill.

The study started, under the sponsorship of the state regents, in 1991 while Oklahoma City was one of the front-runners in the chase to land a $1 billion United Airlines maintenance facility. That facility ultimately went to Indianapolis, but some of the recommendations by the panel could keep Oklahoma in the front-runner position for future aerospace projects, McMurry said.

"This is an outstanding report," McMurry said. "The board (of regents) accepted the report and the attendant recommendations at its January meeting, and now the staff is studying it, doing an analysis to see what we can implement immediately and how we can implement all the recommendations.

"I can guarantee you that this will not be a report that is placed on a shelf and gathers dust. Just authorizing the study was a commitment by the board. A similar study was done for teacher education in the state, and already some of those recommendations are being put into place.

"Copies of this report have been sent to each institution which offers aviation and aerospace education programs so their staff can review it and validate the task force recommendations with recommendations of their own on how to implement them."

During the study, the task force looked at the global aerospace market and how Oklahoma's economy can fit into it, McMurry said. Workplace demographics, as well as predictions for air and space travel, also came under the scrutiny of the panel.

One of the most important elements of the findings is one which industry people have talked about for years: the United States fails to provide high-quality high-technology to most of the students. In many cases, aerospace employers hire highly qualified employees, but must provide remedial training. …