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Piper Announces Apprenticeship Program

Oct. 15, 2018

VERO BEACH — Piper Aircraft, already boasting its biggest staff in a decade, announced Friday it is launching an accredited apprenticeship program in cooperation with Indian River State College

Simon Caldecott, president and CEO, said the apprenticeship program is being created in response to the Vero Beach-based aircraft manufacturer’s growing need for highly skilled manufacturing workers. The two-year program is expected to begin next summer with 10 students.

More: Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach growing its workforce to meet increased production demands

Caldecott said it is expected to grow to 20 active apprentices by its second year. The program will include a combination of on-the-job training as well as classroom instruction designed to qualify the participants as a journeyman in aircraft assembly.  In addition, the company will pay the apprentices' tuition  and treat them as paid Piper Aircraft employees with a full benefits package.

Starting pay will be $12 an hour, with incremental increases based on performance in the program that could reach $18 an hour by the end of the two-year program, Piper spokeswoman Jackie Carlon said. 

Dr. Edwin Massey, president of Indian River State College, said it will be “the first apprenticeship program in Florida that will have as a product a fully finished airplane.”  The students will get 4,000 hours of on-the job training, plus classroom instruction.  By the end of the apprenticeship, they will be close to a two-year associates degree and can pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree, Massey said. 

Applicants must have a high school diploma or its equivalent, meet Piper’s hiring requirements and meet the college’s admission requirements.

Randy Holmes, regional apprenticeship training representative from the Florida Department of Education, said this apprenticeship program "bumps us up a notch."  He said most current apprenticeship programs are in construction. He hopes this will encouraging branching out into new areas such as marine studies, healthcare, information technology and aviation as well as open doors to a wider range of students and skills training.

More: High school students earn college credit, save time and money with IRSC dual enrollment

More planes

Caldecott said the 81-year-old company built only 14 training aircraft in 2009, the year he came on board. This year, Piper is on pace to build 145 trainers this year as well as increasing numbers of its M-series aircraft, including its flagship M600 turboprop.

Piper’s staff, which had fluctuated between 700 and 750 people for several years, is now about 995, Caldecott said. He expects staff to reach 1,025 by year-end and 1,050 by the end of 2019.

Fueling the need for more trainer aircraft is an increasing demand for qualified pilots and obsolescence of trainers built 20 to 40 years ago.

More: Vero Beach's Piper Aircraft receives largest single trainer order in company's history

Caldecott said an apprenticeship program was one of the key solutions when the company considered “the need to look at how and where we could get the necessary resources to sustain and grow our business.”

Helene Caseltine, economic development director for the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, said workforce development is a top priority for site selectors considering locating or expanding businesses in the county.  Piper, by far the largest private employer in Indian River County, helps keep the average wage for manufacturing above $46,000 a year, which is considerably higher than the average wage for all jobs, which is around $39,000, Caseltine said.

Article written by Paul Ivice, Special to TCPalm
Published 6:51 p.m. ET Oct. 12, 2018 | Updated 7:11 p.m. ET Oct. 12, 2018



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