BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — North Central West Virginia’s hub of aerospace and aviation is continuing to grow, thanks in great part to the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center.

Director Thomas Stose said that job opportunities are plentiful, not only in the Mountain State but nationwide.

The Boeing Company predicts a shortage of 650,000 employees in the industry, Stose said.

“Following the trends that are posted by Boeing, aircraft sales are up,” he said. “I’m getting calls because of these shortages from companies outside the state of West Virginia wanting to know if some of our technicians would be willing to relocate.”

As the only FAA certified training center in the state, the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center has a 100 percent placement for its graduates.

“We have the companies coming to the school before the students even complete, looking for future employees,” Stose said. “In fact we’re constantly in contact with the local employers. Bombardier hires many of our graduates, and many of our graduates have gone on, gained experience and moved into management positions.”

KCI Aviation, Pratt & Whitney and Aurora Flight Services are also among those who hire the center’s graduates.

The Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center offers two programs — an eight-week Aircraft Structures Training Program (ASTP) and a two-year associate’s degree program in Aviation Maintenance Technology.

The 25 to 30 students that graduate from the program each year are a diverse group. Students range from recent high school graduates to displaced coal miners and even adults simply looking for a career change.

“Guys and gals,” Stose said. “We’re always looking for more ladies in this career field because they have a great deal of talent working on high performance and high technology aircraft.”

Stose said the industry is most appealing to individuals who enjoy hands-on work and a challenge.

“This isn’t just wrench twisting, this is high technology,” he said. “We’re dealing with digital electronics we’re dealing with computers. This is a career where you’re going to use your mind and your hands.”

Not only are the jobs well-paying, they are stable, as is the industry, Stose said.

“Students that I had 20 years ago in front of me in the classroom are still working here in North Central West Virginia, so we’re offering lifelong careers and the opportunity for growth,” he said.

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