Workforce is the number one concern in economic development today, and when it comes to ensuring Oklahoma’s second largest industry, aerospace and defense, has the pipeline of talent it needs to continue growing, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce (Commerce) has a tall task ahead of it.
During 2019, the Commerce Aerospace & Defense Team met with more than 100 Oklahoma aerospace companies across the state to discuss opportunities and challenges. It became immediately obvious that workforce development was the biggest challenge impeding growth for local companies and the number one concern for companies the team was working to recruit to the state. As the team began to plan its 2020 strategy, workforce development took center stage and plans to organize the first two of a series of Oklahoma Aerospace Career Fairs began.
“When we first established the ACES program, we set workforce development as the first pillar of our comprehensive strategy. The two career fairs that we just concluded reaffirmed the need to maintain our focus on this vital factor for our aerospace industry,” said Don Wetekam, ACES Program Director, Commerce. “There are Oklahoma companies that need aerospace workers across multiple disciplines, and there are people who want to be part of that workforce. Our job was simply to make the connections. I think we were quite successful at that.”
The first event took place in January 2020 at the TulsaTech Riverside Campus. Some of the largest names in aerospace – American Airlines, Lufthansa Technik, the Federal Aviation Administration, NORDAM, FlightSafety International and others – were present. With a total of 24 employers participating, more than 300 job-seekers and students showed up to learn more about careers in aerospace and apply for open positions.
A week later, the team coordinated the second event at Rose State College, hosting companies, including Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, Tinker Air Force Base, Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems, AAR Aircraft Services and others. This event brought out more than 1,000 job-seekers and students looking to get their foot in the door with Oklahoma’s top aerospace companies.
Final survey results from the exhibiting companies have not been completed, but the positive feedback has been resounding.
“Tinker AFB participates in career fairs and hiring events across the State of Oklahoma and the event ACES put together today was a valuable resource in helping us identify talented, high-quality, and enthusiastic candidates,” Bob Amundson, Civilian Personnel Officer, Tinker AFB. “These types of events provide Tinker AFB an opportunity to educate prospective employees on positions we have available. As a result of this event, we were able to make several job offers and expect additional job offers could be made in the future. These types of events are a huge success in helping us meet and sustain our immediate and future hiring needs.”
Moving forward, the Oklahoma Aerospace & Defense Team will look at smaller communities to potentially host the next Oklahoma Aerospace Career Fair. With many of Oklahoma’s aerospace companies being located in more rural locations, these future career fairs will support aerospace companies and bring awareness in those communities about the opportunities available in Oklahoma’s fast-growing aerospace industry.