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Surfeit of talent hampers ABQ aviation industry

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandia Aerospace Corp. President and CEO Dennis Schmidt said finding local talent for his Albuquerque-based avionics design and manufacturing operation is a major hassle.

He’s hiring more employees this year thanks to growing sales and contracts as the industry rebounds from the down economy, but he’s competing with many other companies also looking for workers with the right skills.

“The big problem is we’re all going after the same people,” Schmidt said. “It’s the No. 1 obstacle we face now.”

That’s emerging as a critical hurdle for the state’s growing aviation and aerospace industry. More companies are relocating to New Mexico, and locally established firms are expanding and hiring, but many must recruit people from out of state.

“Companies go to places like Wichita because of the trained workforce there,” Schmidt said. “We need to build a local talent pool like that in New Mexico.”

Workforce training is a key part of the New Mexico Aviation Aerospace Association’s efforts to improve the business environment.

“We’re trying to put scholarship programs together and help local communities and schools attract more students to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers,” said association president Bill McMillan.

The association is also working with the state Department of Veterans Services to get more former military personnel into aviation and aerospace jobs.

“We’ve been introducing the department to companies around the state who will hire veterans to build a data base of job openings,” McMillan said.

The department is helping veterans identify skills they learned in the military that are applicable to aviation.

“Many have worked with related technologies they don’t even know could go on their résumés,” said Veteran Services Secretary Tim Hale. “Many have earned commercial driver’s licenses, worked on satellite communications networks or have experience with unmanned aerial vehicles. They’re well prepared for the workforce we need out there.”

Industry is also supporting the new Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics and Science Academy, a charter high school near Double Eagle II airport on Albuquerque’s West Side.

SAMS opened in August with nearly 300 students. It offers STEM-related curriculum with a heavy focus on aviation, including in-flight training for students who want to become pilots. Industry people participate in an advisory council, and companies offer student internships.

“The council helps develop curricula activity regarding things students need to know and do when they graduate to move into aviation-related positions,” head administrator Scott Glasrud said.