Veterans help manufacturers plug skills gap

Thu Feb 2, 2012 4:41pm EST
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three years ago Gabe Collins was on the front line in Kandahar province, one of the most dangerous places in war-ravaged Afghanistan, conducting search and rescue missions with the U.S. Navy.

These days the 25-year-old, who also served in the Iraq war, is an aircraft engine mechanic at global aerospace firm AAR's plant in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He is applying skills honed while working on helicopters during his eight years of service in the Navy.

Just over a 1,000 miles away in Miami, 37 year-old Ruben Henao, also a veteran of the Iraq war, inspects aircraft landing gear at another AAR plant.

Henao was mostly a supply specialist and infantry man in the U.S. Army. But he learned to fix Humvees and tanks in the field, valuable mechanical experience for his duties today as the last person to sign off on the aircraft landing gear that has been disassembled, repaired and rebuilt.

The two men are among hundreds of military veterans who have been tapped by manufacturing companies that are facing a critical shortage of skilled workers.

According to a joint study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, manufacturing companies have roughly 600,000 vacancies they are struggling to fill. It illustrates a growing skills mismatch, with not enough of the 13.1 million unemployed Americans equipped for the available jobs.

From skilled trades to internet technology and engineering there is a dearth of qualified people as the country continues to churn out fewer math and science graduates.

According to the latest available government data, the share of math, engineering, technology and computer science students dropped to about 9.9 percent in 2009 from 11.1 percent in 1980.   Continued...

<p>Landing gear final inspector Ruben Henao, a U.S. Army veteran who has worked at AAR Landing Gear Services for seven years, performs a final inspection on a piece of landing gear at AAR's facility in Medley, Florida February 2, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity</p>