Northrop Grumman, like many businesses involved in manufacturing, has a nearly perpetual need for skilled workers. To match openings with applicants ready to take on jobs fabricating and assembling aircraft, a new collaboration is preparing local college students with the skills needed by the Southern California aerospace giant through a custom-made vocational program.

“This is kind of groundbreaking,” said Joel Morgan, regional director for workforce and career development for Goodwill Southern California at the South Valley America’s Job Center of California (AJCC) in Palmdale.

To help meet the regional workforce demand for hundreds of trained workers, a partnership was developed with Northrop Grumman, Antelope Valley College, the City of Palmdale and the Los Angeles County Office of Community and Senior Services, Goodwill and the South Valley AJCC. One of main goals of the effort is to attract other regional manufacturing giants that have the ability to employ hundreds more jobseekers in this growing market.

The customized manufacturing vocational training program is offered on the campus of Antelope Valley College, a public community college, with a curriculum developed by Northrop Grumman and approved by the Department of Education. The result is a career pathway that starts with 16 weeks of intensive training and culminates in a guaranteed round of job interviews from which Northrop Grumman has first pick of graduates to fabricate and assemble large aircraft. A number of other aerospace companies including Lockheed Martin also interview candidates who have completed the training.

The total cost per student, including books and supplies, is $1,300. Funding for the program comes in part from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Other financial support for students comes in the form of Pell Grants, while Northrop Grumman has committed to providing supplies and curriculum.

Launched in February of 2016, the program is currently instructing its third cohort of students. By end of the year, 115 students are scheduled to complete the accelerated course and earn 20 college credits in addition to the opportunity to land a job. The four-course curriculum includes three concurrent classes in blueprints, structures and composites with an overlapping 16-week class in aerospace ethics.

After completing the required coursework with a grade of C or better, graduates can earn between $15 and $18 an hour as a starting salary and up to $25 per hour after five to seven years of experience. The benefits to new hires at Northrop Grumman also include up to $15,000 per year in tuition and training for those who want to continue with their education.

Training candidates for this program are recruited at local community colleges and high schools and through word-of-mouth. Currently, the South Valley AJCC Center has a list of about 1,000 people who have expressed interest in the program. In December, those potential trainees can attend an open house to learn more about the program. Goodwill performs the initial screening for all applicants including drug testing, finger printing and aptitude assessments.

Luis Rivas II is a 20-year-old student currently enrolled in the program. Right out of high school, Rivas applied and was accepted to California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, but was unable to attend for financial reasons. After taking a couple years off, he began working on certifications at Chaffey College where he first met recruiters. “When I heard about the program, I was interested and I thought ‘I can do this’,” Rivas said.

Rivas, who has never held a job, has always wanted to be an electrical engineer. He applied for the Northrop Grumman training online, completed his screening, and moved in with his cousins in Palmdale to attend the accelerated training program.

Along with his classmates, Rivas attends classes all day Monday through Saturday and adheres to strict attendance guidelines. He’s been impressed by the instructors, most of whom are employees of Northrop Grumman and teach in their areas of expertise.

“I want to be one of their engineers,” Rivas said.

Finding potential employees like Rivas is vital for the success of the training program. “Northrop wants great people,” said Morgan. “They are looking for women, vets, people with disabilities, people from all walks of life.”

Morgan’s work with Goodwill at the South Valley AJCC and Antelope Valley College opens doors for people who wouldn’t have had access in the past to careers at places like Northrop Grumman. The collaboration provides a ready-to-hire workforce that has the precise skills required to keep the economy moving forward.

“These are short term programs that result in immediate jobs,” Morgan said. He sees this kind of career pathway taking shape in a multitude of industries such as manufacturing and healthcare. “This program is nothing short of amazing,” he said.

The training program is another model for effectively aligning regional employer needs and local colleges, one of the recommendations of the action plan contained in the California Economic Summit’s Roadmap to Shared Prosperity.

“Luis’ story is an example of how the Community Colleges and our Strong Workforce Program are effectively addressing the middle skills gap in California,” said Van Ton Quinlivan, vice chancellor for workforce for the California Community Colleges. “Returning to school with a defined goal of being prepared for the workforce is a prescription for success for the student, the community college and the California employer.”

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The Strong Workforce Program and more workforce efforts to close the skills gap will be discussed at the upcoming 2016 California Economic Summit to be held in Sacramento December 13-14. Registration information and the agenda can be found here.

Originally posted at CA Watchdog.