- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (AP) - Displaced Bridgeport-area workers are finding a second career, and the area’s economy is benefiting with the help of the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, which is a part of the Pierpont Community & Technical College.

Graduates of the center obtain jobs at local companies like Aurora Flight Sciences, which builds components for military and civilian aircraft; Bombardier Aircraft Services, which repairs and maintains transport carrier aircraft; Lockheed Martin, which offers engine and aircraft solutions; and aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, said Thomas A. Stose, director and senior professor at the center.

“If it wasn’t for us (the school) being here, there wouldn’t be these companies here, because we provide the training and workforce for them,” Stose said.

Stose said the aerospace industry in the area is on the rise and more jobs will become available.

Bombardier plans to expand, but because it has trouble getting the manpower to do so, it offers temporary positions of employment while students prepare for their FAA certification, Stose said.

“They forecast that if Bombardier makes the expansion they’re planning in the next few years, they’ll add another 200 technical positions,” he said.

The aerospace center also helps people in the area who have lost their jobs, Stose explained.

“Yesterday, I had six calls from displaced coal miners looking to join the next class,” he said. “In the last class we had seven former coal miners, and they were some of the best students because they’ve been working with their hands for years.”

Salem’s Wendy Price was laid off by the U.S. Postal Service when it shut down its local nighttime processing service. She took the eight-week sheet metal class starting in January 2014, and then landed a job with Bombardier in Bridgeport as a sheet metal structures technician.

“You rivet; you make pieces; you put things together, take things apart. You drill,” in a job like mine, Price said. “The (class) was a good place to start. It gets you familiar with the industry. It’s not like you’re an expert when you’re done … It gives you something so that they’ll (employers) will work with you.”

Since graduating, Price has gotten more on-the-job training to become “signed off by the Federal Aviation Administration for a repairman certificate for sheet metal,” she said. Working sheet metal in the aerospace industry, she can earn anywhere from $14 to $40 an hour, she said.

“We have a small program and get to know our students as our kids, and now they have families of their own,” Stose said of his classes.

The Aerospace Center graduates 20 to 25 students each year, after which they will earn their FAA certification - “a certification that is good for life and they can work anywhere in the U.S. and overseas if it’s with a U.S. contract,” Stose said.

“When the economy is bad, enrollment goes up because people don’t have a job, and come in for training. Enrollment has been increasing slowly over the last couple of years,” he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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