There are several schools within the technical college system of Georgia that have aviation programs, which typically fall underneath Industrial Technology Division. In 2013, Savannah Technical College decided to split Aviation into its own division. The program averages between 60 and 100 students during the day, and another 60 to 100 at night. The proximity to Gulfstream is a big advantage to the program - the partnership is a win/win for both the aerospace giant and the college. "Gulfstream is a major asset to us. They've donated G100 and other equipment. For example, we teach the upholstery and trim certificate - which is a very hard skillset to find in today's world - we run into the issue of finding a teacher to lead the course. So they work with us to find an instructor to come over and teach that program. They offer a lot of support to us in a lot of ways," says Tal Loos, Dean of Aviation Technology.
Another way Savannah Tech and Gulfstream partner is through mentorship. "Gulfstream employees will come in and talk about career opportunities, how they advanced through the company, what a student's career path could look like," explains Tal. "Then the students get to come in and really see how they're going to put these skills to use. It's a really exciting thing to see. Sometimes these students will have job offers that start the Monday after they graduate. And the average salary of people coming out of technical training is currently around $27 an hour. Because Gulfstream employs 10,000 to 12,000 people in the Savannah area, we feel it's very important that we're here to support Gulfstream, and they want to keep Georgia their home and keep growing within Georgia."
The conversation about four-year degrees versus technical school training is one that's gotten increasingly loud over the the last few years in the state of Georgia. Luckily for students in our state, both options are accessible and can lead to incredible opportunity. Tal Loos himself, like many students, finished his four year degree and then decided to go back for technical training. "I can speak from personal experience, it really is about what kind of work you love to do," Loos says. "When I realized I wasn't where I wanted to be, I went back for the training and nearly doubled my salary for almost no additional student debt. It was the right path for me, and for a lot of other students."
Gulfstream and many other companies associated with technical training programs even offer tuition assistance. Tal continues, "Once you get in with them, if you decide you want to go back and get a management degree, or a business degree, or even go into engineering - now that you're in that company, and can get that tuition assistance, you can work on that. It might take a little bit longer than the traditional four years, but you're already working, you're already getting paid a salary, and you're coming out with no college debt and building equity within that company. So now you're in a class of engineers and instead of starting out at the bottom rung, you have six or seven years in that company, and have all the benefits to go along it."
Tal continues, "I think we've done well in the K-12 system for a while now. When I was growing up, you have technical training while you were in high school... you could go to auto shop or wood shop. There's been this thing there for a while that sort of went away. It wasn't. You didn't see that as much. And now the state of Georgia has done really well, especially with the career academies, and getting that partnership built back up with the technical schools, where we start teaching these kids these hands-on skills. I had a conversation with someone the other day. He said, in the old days, if the toaster broke, you got in, you tried to fix it. In today's world, something breaks, it gets thrown out, and you go get a new one. So kids don't get exposed to that as much as they used to. So the sooner we can reach back into the K-12 system and start exposing them to that kind of training, with the dual enrollment programs the better. We have a dual enrollment partnership with Liberty County and Effingham County, and we have one starting up with Chatham County, and we can start exposing those kids to training while they're in high school."
Savannah Tech and Tal Loos invite anyone interested in aviation to come and visit. "Let us take you on a tour, show you around, talk to you about the programs we have. Our Aviation Maintenance is very rigorous... it's preparing you to go to work, and return an aircraft to service. I always say, 'Hey, if I'm going to give you a free ticket to fly across the ocean to anywhere in Europe, but I tell you the plane is only going to be 95% good... are you willing to get on the plane?' That's why this certificate, and these skills are so crucial, and they will be needed forever."
The world may have changed, but one thing has not - Georgia schools like Savannah Technical College's dedication to preparing future workforce, and ensuring the growth of hundreds of local and global companies.
To see Savannah Tech's aviation program in action, click here.