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Aviation Futures Training Center to open at Olive-Harvey College

Olive-Harvey College

Three donated planes will help launch a new aircraft repair program at Olive-Harvey College. | Google Streetview

A 60-year-old Chicago company that maintains aircraft and aircraft parts has forged a partnership with Olive-Harvey College to train students on three donated planes and prepare them for jobs in the airline industry.

The Aviation Futures Training Center is expected to be cleared for takeoff in March as an extension of Olive-Harvey’s long-stalled, soon-to-open transportation, distribution and logistics center.

It will be located in a 12,000-square-foot space at the Calumet Business Center at 98th and Dorchester. The program will initially accommodate up to 80 students.

After 300 hours of instruction and hands-on training with sheet metal from airplane fuselages, students will graduate with a certification that qualifies them for jobs that ramp up to $80,000 within three-to-five years.

The program and its curriculum is the brainchild of AAR, a global aerospace provider founded in Chicago and headquartered near O’Hare Airport; it has 6,000 employees around the world, including 3,000 mechanics.

AAR President and CEO John Holmes said it all started at a power lunch when Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked Holmes what keeps him up at night — other than his 3-year-old son. Holmes’ talked about the “tremendous shortage of skilled labor in the global aviation industry,” particularly in North America.

“Over the next few years, it’s estimated we’re gonna need another 189,000 mechanics to support the large and growing fleet in the U.S.,” Holmes said, noting that 30 percent of the 237,000 mechanics now working are expected to retire in the next few years.

“These are technical skills and mechanics that keep the fleet actually in the air. And they’re really good jobs … well-paying. They’re in high demand and they don’t require a four-year degree,” he said.

“We’ll be providing hands-on, entry-level training for sheet-metal work that’s not only good for aviation, but also important for other industries as well.”

Olive-Harvey College’s transportation and logistics center was about 65 percent complete when work stopped due to the Illinois budget stalemate. Work eventually resumed and the facility is set to open. | Provided photo

As the driving force and technical partner in the new center, AAR will support curriculum development, provide tools and equipment and recruit instructors. And let’s not forget the donation of three aircraft — “not to fly, but to work on,” Holmes said.

The company also will provide a “certain number of scholarships and apprenticeships for the graduates” and “additional financial support.”

“This is also a great opportunity to bring more diversity into the workforce in aviation by attracting African-Americans, Hispanics and women into the aviation industry, which would be a great thing,” Holmes said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the partnership with AAR would not be possible without the colleges-to-careers makeover that has given each of Chicago’s seven city colleges a specialty focus to prepare students for jobs in a particular growth industry. Those 80 initial graduates, he noted, will have skills “that can take you anywhere you want in the aviation industry.”

Although AAR is underwriting the program, graduates won’t necessarily work at the homegrown company.

“United’s gonna look at `em. American’s gonna look at `em. Southwest is gonna look at `em. … These young men are gonna walk out with a degree, a certificate and a skill base that is their passport to the world in the same way that Sarah Lawrence’s undergraduate degree was for me. They’re gonna have people competing for them. They’re gonna be the pick of the litter,” Emanuel said.

AAR “could have done this anywhere,” but Holmes “stayed close to home,” the mayor said.

“If we’re gonna be the city we want to be, you have to have inclusive economic growth,” Emanuel said.

“He decided to start an initiative … that not only affected their bottom line, but the culture of his company. It speaks volumes [for] not only the company he’s building but the values at the top of that company.”

In 2012, Emanuel announced plans to build the training center at Olive-Harvey to prepare students for 28,000 jobs in the fields of transportation, distribution and logistics over the next decade and give them what the governor called a “meal ticket to the middle class.”

The 200,000-square-foot building replaces 112,000 square feet of temporary classroom space adjacent to the main Olive-Harvey building at 10001 S. Woodlawn.

The project was supposed to be completed three years ago and bankrolled by $31.6 million from then-Gov. Pat Quinn’s capital construction program and $10.6 million built into the five-year, $479 million capital plan at City Colleges.

Instead, the marquee project twice fell victim to the marathon state budget stalemate that ended last year over Gov. Bruce Rauner’s objections.

Thursday, Emanuel said he expects to cut the ribbon on the long-awaited facility three weeks from now.