Editor’s note – This article is one of a series of feature stories from Southern State Community College.
Being an aircraft mechanic is hard work, and the job can include long hours and a lot of travel, but Scot Pembleton, who coordinates an aviation program partnership between Southern State Community College and Laurel Oaks Career Campus, said he guarantees a job to anyone who finishes the program.
“I guarantee every student a job in the industry,” Pembleton said. “For every graduate, I have about 10 jobs waiting for them, and they all start at about $50,000 per year. Some have walked out at $100,000 per year.”
Pembleton said this demand is due to a nationwide shortage of qualified aircraft mechanics in a field where cutting corners can leave hundreds of lives being uncertain.
Shawn Tomlin, an aviation instructor who wrote the curriculum for the program, said the two schools’ relationships with several large airlines affords students many opportunities.
Amy McClellan, who oversees the program, said the program is Delta-preferred, which gives students a direct line to one of the nation’s largest airlines.
“Delta looks at our students more because of that preferred status,” she said.
Many students go on to work at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, while others stay close to home working at Airborne Maintenance and Engineering Services.
“If they’re willing to move, they can get a job anywhere,” McClellan said.
McClellan said two years is all it takes to prepare students for licensure in airframe and power plant certification. Six additional classes make a full associate’s degree, McClellan said.
Tomlin said students could enter while in high school, and nine months after their graduation, they can graduate from the program with an associate’s degree and the necessary licensure to be a certified aircraft mechanic.
“Everything is integrated,” he said.
According to McClellan, students have ranged from high school age to 56 years old.
Coursework includes hands-on classes in fuel systems, fluid lines, basic electricity, turbine engines, reciprocating engines, welding, painting and many other areas of study, McClellan said.
“It’s a very hands-on course,” she said. “They tear out engines, reassemble them, and put them back in the plane. There are helicopters and planes in the shop.”
Pembleton said the industry is not for everyone, since it can require difficult work and a lot of travel.
“I’ve lived on three continents now,” he said. “But, if you want to stay local and make enough money to be happy, you can do that.”
Pembleton said if students want to go to Los Angeles, Minneapolis or New York City, Delta would make that happen. “You learn every aspect of aircrafts. You hit everything from sheet metal to math and physics. It is hard work, but it pays off. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve always had a job offer.”
The program’s faculty also gives it an edge, McClellan said.
“We have tons of experience in our instructors,” she said. “They do a lot of things that are aside from the educational piece.”
According to McClellan, finance is the greatest challenge for students entering the program.
“We go in the summertime, and there’s often not a lot of funding for a summer semester,” she said. “But there are things to do with financial aid that can minimize out-of-pocket cost.”
McClellan said she loves watching students succeed, often going from high school to having a high-skill, high-paying job.
“When they finish this program, they do things they never thought they could do,” she said. “I just love seeing the lives change… Just to see how they come in versus how they go out of the program. It’s pretty impactful.”
For more information about Southern State’s Aviation Program, visit www.sscc.edu, email Amy McClellan at [email protected], or call 800.628.7722, ext. 3510.
David Wright is a local journalist and freelance writer.