West Star Continues Successful Focus On A&P Apprenticeships

West Star has a longstanding tradition of being an organization “Where Experience Shines”.  As business has grown and the market has evolved, experienced technicians are in great demand.  In 2018 it became apparent to West Star that the looming labor shortage would impact our future needs and the industry as a whole.  This meant shifting our approach to focus more on hiring for attitude and training for expertise.  While West Star always recruits for experienced technicians, the available supply is thin and demand is extreme.  As a proactive solution to worker shortage issues, we choose to invest more in developing talent that we know is available, and train for the specific skills needed.  

This strategy led us to increase our partnerships with the local workforce development teams and area school districts to both better serve our community while helping to meet our future talent needs. 

A Different Approach For Growth
In 2019, the West Star Aviation apprenticeship program was formally approved by the State of Illinois, where our headquarters is located.  The program allows Apprentices to start at different levels depending on their skill and experience level.  For example, someone joining right after high school can expect to spend 3 years working and learning alongside our senior technicians while getting paid and having access to benefits.

However, transitioning military members or students enrolled in an aviation maintenance program at a trade college, also learn right alongside our senior technicians but because of their different experience or education, they can complete the program in a much shorter time.

In either case, the core of the approach is a defined set of maintenance tasks, learned through hands on instruction.  For high school graduates and transitioning military members without an A&P license, West Star follows the FAA requirements under Title 14 to ensure hands on instruction is delivered and aligned with the hours and learning requirements for apprentices to receive sign off from the local FISDO to test for their A&P license.

West Star pays the cost of high school graduates and transitioning military members to attend Baker’s School of Aeronautics two-week prep and test program, including travel, lodging, meals and wages.

Currently, West Star has over 50 apprentices working at all four full-service locations.  The success rate of apprentices that complete the program is high.  So far in 2022 there have been 8 apprentices successfully complete the program and obtain their A&P license at our East Alton, IL location, with several more scheduled to complete by year end.   Since 2019, we’ve seen 25+ apprentices advance through the program with their A&P license.

Always Evolving
To continue to be successful, a program like this has to be fluid enough to evolve to current needs and requirements.  

For example, when there is a change at the local FISDO, it can impact apprentices who require sign off on their training in order to test.  This means staying on top of any changes in new FISDO expectations becomes critical.  

Dedicated and continuous efforts to engage with local schools to increase awareness to our apprenticeship program is a critical part of success.  Making younger demographics aware of the options available to them is key, as we have learned many people are not interested in attending college. 

The program structure is constantly reviewed to determine effectiveness. This requires us to look at it from the perspective of employees currently in the program or recently graduated, along with our company expectations.

Additionally, when training, human resources, leads, managers and current apprentices have regular check-ins. This keeps everyone informed and enables a strong flow of information and communication with clear direction. This approach also provides guidance to be shared on detailed items like how their binders should look, how forms should be completed and more.  It also makes participants feel more supported by having dedicated time to review their current progress and get additional direction if needed.

Finally, it’s equally important to ask our apprentices who completed the program about their experience so we can learn what works well and what we can do to improve so that future apprentices have the best experience possible. When this happens, everyone wins. Leads and managers benefit from apprentices more quickly developing their skills and advancing through the program. 

This Is A Program That’s Here To Stay
This program was started well before the shortage arrived and was a part of a long-term strategic growth plan and not meant to be temporary or reactionary.  For continued success, it is important to have different methods for people to enter the aviation industry.  For these reasons, our Apprenticeship program will remain a foundational success factor for West Star’s current and future talent pipeline.  The proof is always in the results.  The program has generated a 14% increase in employee headcount since December 2019.

Katie Johnson

Katie Johnson

Vice President
Human Resources
Office: 618.258.8030

Amber Kasting

Amber Kasting

Manager, Human Resources
Midwest Region
Office: 618.258.8040