Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the opening of a new aviation training facility on the Southwest Side on Wednesday, calling it a “powerful step” toward educating and employing people from underrepresented communities and getting them into the industry.
“Our long-term economic success as a state depends upon our investment in the next generation who will soon take on the task of steering our most important industries,” Pritzker said Wednesday afternoon.
Pritzker was joined at the announcement by U.S. Rep. Marie Newman and other city, state and industry officials at the Aviation Institute of Maintenance’s new training center, at 3711 S. Ashland in the McKinley Park neighborhood.
The institute will offer Federal Aviation Association certified maintenance training with classes set to begin for 40 students on Sept. 27. Plans call for an enrollment of 200 students next year.
Located in a former warehouse, the 137,000-square-foot Aviation Institute of Maintenance facility includes a hangar, 17 classrooms, administrative offices and a lab for learning about avionics — electronics as applied to the aviation industry.
Billed as the institute’s “largest training program in the nation,” the facility is partnering with the City Colleges of Chicago for a credit-sharing agreement and will also work with Southern Illinois University’s School of Aviation to help students at the facility receive a bachelor’s degree after going through the aviation training program.
The institute also plans to partner with Olive-Harvey College to allow those in high school to take four general courses that can be transferred into a program at the institute focused on an aircraft’s exterior and engine. The aviation institute also plans to pursue other agreements with colleges and universities in Illinois to “spur the recruitment of minority students,” according to a news release on the training facility.
Pritzker and others who appeared at Wednesday’s ribbon cutting talked about the long-term effect the training facility could have, such as a job paying about $72,000 a year — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — in an industry expected to bring 4,300 jobs to the state over the next decade, growing “at a much faster pace than the U.S. average,” Pritzker said.
“By empowering a diverse and talented pool of professionals to step up to the plate, we can ensure that our businesses and our institutions here in Illinois, will continue to grow and innovate and thrive well into the future,” Pritzker said. “That includes especially our airline and aircraft and transportation industries.”
John Holmes, the CEO of aviation services provider AAR, said the aerospace industry will likely need over 130,000 new maintenance technicians in North America and over 600,000 globally over the next “several years.”
As the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul company in North America, and the third largest in the world, “we feel that shortage of talent, every day,” Holmes said.
“Students can continue their education here at [Aviation Institute of Maintenance] to get more advanced certifications and ultimately, upon graduation, AAR — amongst the other great companies like United, Southwest Boeing and others — will be eagerly waiting to hire them into long standing, well paid, long lasting rewarding careers in aviation,” Holmes said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who did not attend the announcement in person, said in a statement “connecting our residents to stable, good-paying and meaningful careers in growing industries is a critical component to our post-pandemic economic recovery strategy.”
“I am pleased to see the Aviation Institute of Maintenance support this goal by expanding its presence and educational resources in our underserved neighborhoods,” Lightfoot said. “Chicago’s airports have long been renowned for being world-class, and this new campus will provide an entryway for residents to take part in this splendor through exciting education and employment opportunities.”