Published April 25, 2022
By Bradley Hicks
AEDC Public Affairs
Over the past six years, several interns were brought onboard through the initiative. All of these individuals are still currently employed at Arnold AFB, headquarters of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex.
Those tasked with ensuring the continued success of the program are now looking to take it to the next level with the help of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, or TCAT, and local schools.
The effort, being referred to as the Craft Internship Revitalization, could provide Arnold with a larger pool of potential interns to work in a variety of craft positions across the installation.
Aside from the extra manpower, the program has the added benefit of introducing the interns to Arnold and familiarizing them with job processes and expectations and enable them to capture the knowledge of the existing long-term craft employees for the future of Arnold AFB.
“With the increasing need for skilled craft resources, this is an excellent opportunity to tap into local resources and grow the AEDC workforce,” said Michelle Hicks, Design Engineering functional manager for National Aerospace Solutions, LLC, the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor for AEDC.
Craft jobs at Arnold cover many different disciplines. These include electricians, instrument technicians, aerospace precision machinists and mobile crane operators, among many others.
“Discussion of the craft internship program gives students an opportunity to understand what opportunities may be available to them if they meet the training and educational requirements,” Hicks said. “Understanding what opportunities are available to students and what it takes to prepare for those opportunities helps students plan and be set up for success.”
The craft internship program was already part of the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement between National Aerospace Solutions, LLC, or NAS, and the Air Engineering Metal Trades Council.
“The craft intern program outreach to local high schools provides information to the students of opportunities for future employment at AEDC which does not require formal college education,” said Randy Long, NAS labor relations manager. “This opportunity has the added benefit of the students not incurring debt associated with traditional college education.”
The push to further advance the effort began a couple of years ago.
In 2020, the Air Force looked to broaden its recruiting efforts for scientists and engineers. At that time, the recruiting function for scientists and engineers at Arnold AFB was assigned to the AEDC Air Force Personnel Office. When AEDC was subsequently reorganized to mirror an Air Force wing structure, the AEDC Technical Management Branch was created. One of the responsibilities of this branch is workforce career development.
“Recruiting is part of that,” said Mike Dent, chief of AEDC Technical Management. “Retention of skilled personnel is always a concern. Why not promote the benefits and rewards of working at AEDC to local talent? This will enhance the likelihood of a lifelong career.”
To bolster career recruiting at the base, Air Force personnel at Arnold initiated an outreach effort with the local high schools to get students interested in pursuing trade careers and equipping them to potentially get an internship after enrollment in a trade or technical school. The Air Force invited NAS to participate.
“It was an excellent opportunity for NAS to promote the craft internship program, among other opportunities at NAS and AEDC,” Hicks said.
Discussions focused on the craft internship program started with Tullahoma City Schools in 2020, followed by talks with Coffee County and Franklin County schools officials in late 2021.
Dent said the response from administrators in the local schools systems was “very positive.” More information on the intern program was provided to Tullahoma and Franklin County schools officials during presentations conducted by Dent and Hicks earlier this year.
Much like the initial discussions, these presentations were positively received, so much so that teachers and administrators from Tullahoma High School and Franklin County Schools were excited to get an up-close look at several Arnold AFB craft areas and facilities during tours in late February and early March. During these visits, the educators learned more about the roles craft personnel play across Arnold and how vital their work is to the operations of test facilities and execution of the AEDC mission. The groups toured the craft shops in the von Kármán Gas Dynamics Facility and the High-Enthalpy Arc Heated Facility, the AEDC Model and Machine Shop, and the Model Installation Building of the Propulsion Wind Tunnel Facility.
Derek Swiger, machine shop instructor at Tullahoma High School, was among those who visited Arnold. He said the prospect of some of his current students eventually landing an internship at Arnold after acquiring the required education or experience is exciting.
“I love machining, and I try to convey that to my students,” Swiger said. “I have several students right now that are doing really well in machine shop class, but I think if we can get them a better knowledge of what actually goes on out in real machine shops, it’d give them a good expectation of what they’re going to have to do in the future.”
Suzanne Mitchell, Franklin County Schools Career Technical Education director who visited the base, said informing students interested in craft careers about what types of jobs are out there, furnishing them with knowledge on the training and education needed for particular fields, and providing them information on their options will only serve to grow the number of those interested in pursuing an internship at Arnold.
And Mitchell added she was impressed by the options available at Arnold.
“There’s so many specialties,” she said. “You look at welding, you have the pipefitters, you have the boilermakers so, as a student, you can come see what you’re interested in and then go from there.”
Jessie Kinsey, Tullahoma High School assistant principal and Career Technical Education director who toured the base, is gratified to see AEDC and area schools systems working in tandem.
“I think it’s exciting,” Kinsey said. “I saw a lot of similar equipment … I’m excited for the opportunity for the partnership because we share the same basic skillsets.”
Kinsey added teachers and administrators in the local schools systems will play an important role in accomplishing these goals going forward, and she is excited about student opportunities and their prospects of a career at Arnold.
Additional outreach is planned for Grundy County Schools. Administrators from the Coffee County Schools system have also expressed interest in the program.
NAS is also in the planning stages for outreach activities with TCAT.
There is the possibility program outreach could be expanded beyond the initial group of schools to widen the pool of potential interns.
“Once the craft intern program is engaged, the NAS management team will always be evaluating the needs of NAS and AEDC,” Hicks said. “This could lead to further expansion of participating and partnering schools.”
The number of initial craft internship positions has not yet been determined. This, along with the work locations, will be determined by manpower needs when the positions are posted.
Craft internship candidates will need to possess the required experience and/or education and meet all of the requirements for full-time employment at AEDC, such as passing a medical screening and obtaining a security clearance. The internships will be paid full-time positions and offer full-time employee benefits.
“The type of work is determined by the craft position they are hired for,” Long said. “How long an intern position lasts is based on and determined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement language.”
Hiring for the craft internship positions is projected to begin this fall. The internships will be posted under the job postings section of the NAS external website, and candidates will be required to apply and interview for the positions.
With the support of the local schools systems, those involved in the craft internship program are hoping to see the same level of success as the NAS and Air Force engineer intern programs, which bring a collection of collegiate engineering students from across the country to Arnold each year.
“The craft internship program is structured differently than the engineering internship programs in that candidates are brought on as full-time employees and have the opportunity to continue their employment directly into a journeyman position,” Hicks said, “but the benefit of gaining experience on the job, capturing knowledge of the experienced craft workforce for the future of AEDC and contributing to the AEDC mission is the same.”