When most people think of Colorado, a few things come to mind: skiing in the majestic Rocky Mountains, enjoying one of its 350 breweries or maybe its Gold Rush and Wild West heritage.
People might not know that Colorado is an aerospace hub, home to 400 companies and 25,000 employees in the industry. Some of the industry’s biggest names — Ball Aerospace and United Launch Alliance — as well as dozens of start-ups — are headquartered here.
But despite a soaring aerospace industry, Chuck Stout is a little worried. Interest in the field at the roots of the aerospace industry — aviation — is “losing altitude” among youth in the United States.
“Aviation has lost its gloss,” said Stout, the exhibits manager for Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum located on the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. “People aren’t training to be pilots like they were in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Stout delivers aviation and history presentations through a partnership with CHFAreach, which offers education to stabilize and enrich Colorado's affordable housing communities.
Stout recently spoke about the “20 Greatest Moments in Flight (That You Never Heard of)” at Metro West Housing Solution’s (MWHS) Cedar Avenue/Cedar Gardens apartment community.
The presentation is just one example of MWHS’s ongoing efforts to bring in STEM-themed programs and education opportunities throughout the year for residents.
Stout hopes that educating people about the heroes and risk takers of the Golden Age of flying will generate interest in aviation and other STEM disciplines.
“The United States is lagging behind the cutting edge,” he said. “If we want to be a leader, then we must get kids interested in technology and engineering.”
A massive pilot shortage is looming as thousands of pilots prepare to enter retirement in the coming decade. At the same time, demand to travel by air is on the rise.
Industry experts say increased flight time requirements, escalated education costs and low entry-level pay at regional airlines have contributed to the shortage of new pilots. Stout says pilot working conditions and pay are improving, however.
In the United States, the Boeing Pilot Outlook predicts a need for 117,000 new commercial pilots, 118,000 maintenance technicians and 154,000 cabin crew members between now and 2036. Worldwide, the industry needs 2 million new commercial airline pilots, maintenance technicians, and cabin crew members.
Declining interest in STEM jobs
In today's world of smartphones, virtual reality and video games – getting kids interested in occupations like flying is especially a challenge, Stout acknowledged.
A survey released in June 2018 by Junior Achievement and Ernst & Young found that STEM interest is declining among boys. Just 24 percent of 13 to 17-year-old boys expect to pursue a STEM career, down from 36 percent in 2017. Interest among girls has held steady year-over-year at 11 percent.
Career choices that have grown in popularity among this demographic include those in the health/dental field and the public service sector. Experts believe these preferences reflect the altruistic qualities of today’s teens. They also speculate teens might find STEM disciplines "too difficult."
But the STEM shortage isn’t new. Colorado has 15.3 job openings for every unemployed STEM worker – close to the national ratio of 13 to 1. Nationally, that equates to 3 million STEM jobs, often high-paying, going unfilled.
Planting the seeds of STEM
It’s been said that if you spark an interest, you can ignite a passion.
Stout’s fascination with airplanes and flying began as a teen. He’s been an active pilot ever since.
Richard Plass, a Cedar Gardens/Cedar Avenue resident in the audience for Stout’s aviation presentation, said he grew up with it. Plass followed in the footsteps of his uncle, a U.S. Air Force pilot. Plass joined the U.S. Navy in the 1970s and took advantage of a flight school program it offered.
Plass, who stopped flying after suffering a stroke and motion sickness, fondly recalls his days up in the air.
“It’s just fun,” he said. “There’s nothing in the world that compares to flying—not even the world’s greatest roller coaster. You’re in control of this machine—you tell it what to do.”
Perhaps Stout’s presentation through CHFAreach could be the spark of interest that today’s kids need to become tomorrow’s pilots.
Stable, secure and safe housing is a primary pillar to every strong community. CHFAreach supports the functioning of affordable housing communities—which benefits residents and the wider community, said Belinda Waldron, the CHFAreach coordinator,
In 2017, more than 100 CHFAreach training sessions were held for over 2,000 housing professionals. Approximately 20 resident education classes were held for an estimated 300 attendees.
The “20 Greatest Moments in Flight” class was a good fit for CHFAreach because it’s educational, interesting and engaging.
"The presenter spoke about the local history and community, which related well to the audience and captured their attention," Waldron said.
Waldron said CHFAreach offerings are open to the public. View the class calendar at chfainfo.com.
Megan Schmidt is staff writer/editor at Metro West Housing Solutions.