An educational program that would churn out skilled labor is key to solving the work force shortage for the local aviation industry, executives said at a conference Tuesday.
The problem? There aren't many students to train as those workers, one Central Oregon Community College official told the executives.
"While you're having problems finding employees, we're having problems finding students to provide you with those employees," Ross Tomlin, COCC's instructional dean, told a group of about 18 Central Oregon aviation and business officials.
Tomlin said the college's composite manufacturing course, originally scheduled to start this fall, didn't receive enough applications and was dropped. COCC plans to relaunch the program in January, he said.
The group of aviation officials was attending a local aeronautics industry summit, held at Columbia Aircraft Manufacturing Corp.'s office at Bend Municipal Airport as part of Central Oregon Industry Week.
The aviation industry is growing rapidly in the region. Columbia Aircraft, the biggest local aviation firm with 716 employees, jumped nine places, to sixth place, between 2005 and 2006 on the list of largest private employers in Central Oregon.
The discussion at the summit originally centered on the potential formation of a Central Oregon aviation industry consortium that could lobby federal agencies and tackle problems like the work force shortage more effectively.
But while no definite decision on the consortium was made, some officials vented their frustration with the continued lack of skilled labor in the region.
"We're having problems finding people that would show up on time," said Travis Warthen, vice president of Bend-based Leading Edge Aviation Inc. "I don't know about the work ethic of some of these young people.
"Today's youths don't want to get their hands dirty," Warthen continued. "They want to sit in front of a computer."
COCC's Tomlin said while he is disappointed with the number of students for the composite manufacturing program, the college will keep trying.
"We have a great model (for providing aviation firms with labor)," he said. "We're not going to give up."
As for the consortium discussion, industry officials agreed that a concerted effort is needed to attract more federal attention, so processes like product certifications can be expedited.
Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration office in Seattle oversees the Central Oregon region. But the office also is swamped with filings from industry giant Boeing Co.
Greg Phillips, manager of Bend Municipal Airport, said the growing number of aeronautic com- panies locally, including the likes of expanding charter service firm and flight school Professional Air, can have more impact as a group.
"I think we have the opportunity for something really special here in Central Oregon," Phillips said at the summit. "We already have all the players here. But the only way we can do this is if we do it together."
The challenge, said one Central Oregon executive, is that the industry is growing so fast that many firms simply can't take staff out of production and place them on consortium-related jobs.
"Long-term planning (on a consortium) is difficult," said Robert Jamieson, CEO of Redmond-based Mountain High Equipment & Supply Co., which makes oxygen masks for pilots. "Everyone is so busy that you don't see it until its right there."
But Leading Edge's Warthen and other officials agreed that a consortium would eventually need to be formed, especially to deal with the labor issue.
"Everyone's having issues, it sounds like," Warthen said. "I think if we can pool our resources together and create a training program for the basic skill sets, you can then tailor the graduates to specific job needs, and that would be an asset."