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Aerospace Companies to Create Data Link With Kern Schools

B3K, a workforce development initiative between aerospace companies and Kern County schools and colleges, will share data to inform schools when positions become available and what skills or certifications they require.

Aerospace engineers work on unmanned aerial vehicle or drone prototype.
(TNS) — Northrup Grumman and other aerospace companies are taking steps to engage closer than ever with local colleges and schools to place more students in a variety of specialized jobs within an industry cluster focused in and around eastern Kern County.

An initiative announced this week aims to create a data link that aerospace employers would use to inform schools when positions become available, along with specific information on what skills, certificates or degrees the jobs require.

Involving the region's largest educational institutions, the workforce development effort builds on work begun in 2020 by the B3K Prosperity economic collaboration to improve the region's competitiveness and employment prospects by, in part, convening diverse parties with a shared interest in working together.

Participants in the B3K initiative identified aerospace as one of five sectors with potential to drive local economic growth. That led to a meeting of industry employers in May, followed by a gathering in November that included concrete steps toward sharing data on job openings.

The link appears to be six to 10 months from implementation, said Kristen Watson, chief of staff to the president of Cal State Bakersfield, who added that there are important hurdles to overcome first.

Before data may be shared, the parties involved must establish trusting relationships, said Watson, one of B3K's earliest proponents. For example, there will have to be signed nondisclosure agreements — and that work has begun, she noted.

The data link, if successful, could be adopted by some of B3K's other groups working with targeted sectors such as advanced manufacturing, Watson said.

"Kind of revolutionary, huh?" she asked.

A Northrop Grumman representative said in a news release Monday that the company is experiencing strong demand for aircraft mechanics and services.

"This includes structures mechanics, composite technicians and electricians with varying levels of expertise," Palmdale People Strategy Manager Rebecca Sweeney stated. "Programs and educational institutions that support the development of these capabilities (such as aircraft fabrication) play a symbiotic role in the ability to meet workforce planning and talent demand."

Besides CSUB, the aerospace cluster is working with the Kern Community College District, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, Antelope Valley College, Cal State Northridge and other campuses within the California State University system.

Workforce development to accomplish similar goals has become a top priority locally, even apart from B3K's efforts. KCSOS has in recent years elicited a wide range of commitments for its education pledge to address education and workforce issues.

Superintendent Mary Barlow noted by email Tuesday her organization is hosting an aerospace career symposium next month, and that it provides informational materials to students looking to navigate the regional education system. She noted that working to understand industry's personnel needs is part of the focus.

One reason industry has embraced the effort is the advantage of raising aerospace workers locally instead of trying to recruit and bring them in from elsewhere.

"When we looked at the obstacles to hiring good employees, we realized that having good qualified candidates requires looking at ways of enticing local individuals to apply," Gregory Whitlock, retired technical director at China Lake Naval Weapons Center, said in Monday's release. "But how do we connect the dots between education and employment? How do we grow them here?"

With representatives from China Lake, Edwards Air Force Base and the Mojave Air and Space Port, the B3K aerospace group came up with what's being called a Talent to Industry Exchange, or TIE. Participants determined early on there is a need for workers with various levels of skills, including part-time to full-time work for people ranging from technicians to cybersecurity professionals.

Watson said one takeaway from the collaboration so far is that a gap of understanding remains to be bridged. Employers were largely unaware of what CSUB offers or the existing pathways through the Kern education pledge. Likewise, she said, educators lacked a working knowledge of what kinds of workers employers were looking for.

"The first step was, let's bring everybody to the table," she said.

©2023 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.