$1.1 million state grant for Westfield Voc-Tech aviation

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HOLYOKE, Mass. (The Westfield News) – The planned Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) aviation program at Westfield Vocational-Technical High School (WVTHS) received a big boost from the state Friday.

Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki stopped by the Gill Technology Center at the Holyoke Transportation Center to announce two state grants being awarded to WVTHS and Holyoke Community College (HCC) for their aviation and culinary programs, to the tune of $1,026,061 and $1.75 million, respectively.

The aviation technology education program is a first of its kind effort in Massachusetts and New England. Together with key local partners, such as Gulfstream, AirFlyte and B&E Precision Aircraft Components, the new aviation program will operate as a satellite campus at Barnes Municipal Airport.

Through the program, students will be able to graduate from high school with an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) license. The program will prepare students for an array of careers in the aviation industry, including pilot, maintenance, manufacturing, air traffic control, airport management, engineering and airport design positions.

“The more we’ve learned about our great vocational-technical high schools and community colleges in western Mass., we’ve realized that they can hold the key for many people to get a great job without having to go into a lot of college debt,” said Bialecki.
“The schools are working with local government and business communities to train young people, educate them and prepare them for great jobs,” he said.

“Training students for careers in today’s competitive workforce requires providing schools with cutting-edge equipment to help them succeed,” he said. “Our vocational technical schools and community colleges provide the educational training, coupled with hands-on applications, that is needed to prepare students for careers in the 21st century global economy.”

“Grants like this provide the necessary tools for students to ensure they are skilled and ready to compete in the global economy,” said Secretary of Education Matthew Malone. “We have been focused on closing gaps and opening opportunities for all students to make sure they are prepared for their future careers.”

“Boeing, in their 2014 Pilot and Technician Outlook, they’re projecting that in the next 19 years, the aviation system will need 584,000 new commercial airline maintenance technicians and 533,000 commercial airline pilots,” said WVTHS Principal Stefan Czaporowski.

“These are great-paying jobs for our kids, in careers that last a lifetime,” he said. “We’re working with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in order to get our program approved and we’re moving ahead.”

“When we started the Aviation Maintenance Technology program plan this past January, we knew that we had many obstacles to overcome if we wanted to start in September 2015,” he said. “With the assistance of Secretary Bialecki and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we now have the funding to purchase the equipment necessary to open the first high school FAA approved Airframe and Powerplant Certification Program in the state.”

Czaporowski said that next week the school will begin working with the coordinator for the aviation program on finalizing the program’s curriculum.

“This group has latched upon that and is moving this forward. We’re going to fill a demand right here in the Pioneer Valley,” said Westfield’s City Advancement Officer Joe Mitchell. “Not only is the aviation program going to provide a trained workforce to help maintain the private sector’s economic viability at Barnes and Westover Regional Airports, but it’s going to directly impact businesses and industry partners up and down the valley.”

Mitchell stated that Westfield’s wealth of aviation-related businesses will provide students with numerous internship opportunities, as well as plans to start a ‘twilight program’ for workforce development.

“This is a great opportunity. It’s about public/private mergers and collaborations and that’s the way going forward,” said Westfield State Representative John Velis. “Government, private enterprise, the airport, Westfield State coming together to form a program like this – it’s going to fill jobs, lift up employment and that’s what we need right now.”

Barnes Regional Airport Manager Brian Barnes spoke of how the formation of the program helped to save Hangar Two at Barnes Regional, a deteriorating part of the airport’s infrastructure that will serve as the site for the A&P program.

“It’s a significant landmark. Being able to preserve it and help train our kids at the same time, it’s exciting,” said Barnes. “Hopefully, it’ll be around for awhile.”

Bialecki said he believes incoming Director of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash will view western Mass. with the same sense of urgency under new Governor Charlie Baker when he is sworn in in January.

“At the city level, he has been one of our great local leaders in economic development, understanding both housing and jobs,” said Bialecki of Ash, the former city manager of the Suffolk County city of Chelsea. “I think he’s going to be very interested and motivated (in western Mass.), because he gets it – that we’re only successful here if we’re really creating economic opportunity for everybody in the state.”

In September, the Patrick administration announced the launch of the Industry Training Capital Equipment grant program to expand support of training programs at career technical high schools and community colleges. The capital equipment program will fund large scale grants for the purchase of equipment to prepare students for careers in high demand industries such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, hospitality and mechanical and technical skills. The grant equipment program is designed to help improve the skills of students enrolling in these programs, increase the number of students who can access training and allow employers to have access to a greater pool of qualified talent.

Funding for the program is provided by the Commonwealth’s Capital Plan. The Patrick administration’s five-year plan includes $10 million in funding for a grant program to benefit Massachusetts career technical schools and community colleges.

More information about the program, including the grant guidelines and application, are available on the program’s website and applications will be accepted on a rolling basis. The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development will issue funding recommendations within 60 days of receiving a complete application that is submitted by an eligible applicant. This new grant program complements the Administration’s Vocational Opportunity Challenge (VOC) which in its first two years provided $2 million in grants to more nearly 60 career technical school programs benefiting more than 3800 students. The Executive Office for Administration and Finance (EOAF) and the Executive Office of Education (EOE) anticipate a new round of funding for the VOC program will be available in the spring.

Media Credit: The Westfield News

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