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New college program aims to tackle significant aviation workforce needs in northeast Iowa

Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 9:08 PM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Todd Dalsing, who directs the Dubuque Regional Airport, said there was already an aviation workforce shortage prior to the pandemic.

COVID-19, though, has made it much more significant. Dalsing emphasized that shortage is not just for pilots.

“Obviously you need your pilot, you need a flight crew and, if there are any mechanical issues, mechanics need to come in and address those,” Dalsing said. “You need air traffic controllers, ground handlers that are pumping the fuel and taking care of the aircraft.“

The Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta is hoping to tackle that issue through a new avionics electronic technician program.

“We just thought, ‘Let us take a look at it’,” Mark Gerein, dean of advanced manufacturing, industrial technology, and computer science, said. “We looked at the future job growth for avionics technicians. It is there. If you look at it over the next ten years, anywhere from five to seven percent locally and nationally and, in 20 years, it is upwards of 15 to 18%.”

Gerein said they also surveyed industries in the area that employ aviation workers.

“Of the groups that we surveyed roughly 80 to 85 percent of them said they needed people today, so we felt pretty strongly that there is an opportunity here,” Gerein said.

The avionics electronic technician program is due to a partnership between NICC, the University of Dubuque, and the Dubuque Regional Airport. Staff from the University of Dubuque helped put together the curriculum and the airport will serve as a laboratory for students to get hands-on experience. Pending approval from the Iowa Department of Education, they expect to launch the program in the fall.

Gerein said the program would provide an opportunity for growth for both students and the college.

“If you like working with your hands and you like electronics, this is a really cool industry to get into,” Gerein said. “It is kind of a startup for us as a college as well. Once we get that established we think we can grow into other areas like auto and ag electronics and stuff like that.”

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