Unemployed worker let down by apprentice program

Eric Hilliard hoped going through the Fast Start program at Aeroframe would be the beginning of a new career in aircraft mechanics. But he was laid off after four months.
Eric Hilliard hoped going through the Fast Start program at Aeroframe would be the beginning of a new career in aircraft mechanics. But he was laid off after four months.

It's exciting when there's economic growth and job opportunities. And such has been the case at Aeroframe. Eric Hilliard was looking for a new career and signed up to go through the state's Fast Start class for Aeroframe-- five weeks of unpaid training he hoped would eventually land him a job as an aircraft mechanic.

Hilliard successfully completed the program April 15th. "My class began work on April 18 and that very same day we were sent home. We were told that there wasn't enough work. We just got finished with all these promises of how this is going to be our livelihood, this is how we're going to be able to raise a family and Tuesday the 19th, still no work." Before he could finish his apprenticeship, he was laid off. That was August 19th.

Hilliard found it ironic that August 9, a little more than a week before he was let go, the governor had been at Aeroframe talking about the company's growth and adding 475 jobs. "While the governor was at Aeroframe I was home because there was no work."

And he finds it questionable that the same day he was let go there was another Fast Start class underway at Aeroframe. "He had a brand new class in there. You're laying me off and how ever many other people you're laying off, just to release from ten to twenty more apprentices into the work force? That just didn't make sense to me."

Hilliard says he understands layoffs but that he feels he and others have been misled.

A spokesman for Aeroframe says it's not unusual to have a lull in work in the aviation industry and that what they really need right now are skilled aircraft mechanics. Aeroframe Chief Operating Officer Mike Long says they laid off about seven in the apprentice program and decided to focus on providing additional and more advanced training for the 100 they kept.

About twenty more will graduate from the Aeroframe Fast Start program in the next week or so and Long says they will be put to work. He says no new apprentice classes will be held until January.

As well,  Long says there are production issues that keep some apprentices from getting forty hours a week.

Stephen Moret, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development says "LED FastStart is the top-ranked workforce training program in the country."  He says, "Aeroframe executives have assured us the company continues to execute its growth plans in Lake Charles; and that like all private-sector companies, Aeroframe has the ability to makes its own employment decisions as they see fit."

Copyright 2011 KPLC.All rights reserved

Here is the full comment we received from Aeroframe's Chief Financial/Operating Officer Mike Long:

Aeroframe is very happy with the Fast Start Program.  We are and will continue to be advocates of the program.

We currently have about 100 employees who have successfully gone through this program and are employed by the company.

We do consider it a success. However, we can only  employ so many apprentices without impacting our productivity and quality, and therefore we have decided to delay further classes until January 2012.

We are shifting our focus now on providing additional training for the apprentices already employed to increase their productivity and earning potential.

However, before we invest in additional training in the existing apprentice workforce, the company did release approximately 8 individuals whom we felt additional training would not be beneficial.

They were unable to progress at the same pace as their peers.

 We are also in the process of working through some production issues which have caused some apprentices not to be able to work 40 hrs a week.

Unfortunately, because apprentices are lightly trained, they are the most susceptible to short term production issues because they typically cannot be cross-utilized in other areas like experienced mechanics.

Our production issues are short term in nature and not uncommon in the industry which can be highly volatile.

We hope to have this resolved in the coming weeks.