‘The Sky Is the Limit’ for PIA Graduates

VIENNA, Ohio – Tyler Downing, a Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics student, believes he was almost born to fly.

Actually, he was nearly born while flying.

“We always joke it started before I was born because [my mother] was life-flighted when she was about to have me,” said Downing.

His grandfather and he share a passion for aviation. Downing said there are videos of him in a stroller at the Cleveland Air Show, and he grew up flying remote controlled airplanes. Downing, of Sandusky, strives to become both a mechanic and a pilot. While others may study at PIA for a better-paying career, he says, “I am here on passion.”

Still six months away from graduating, Downing just took a job-shadowing opportunity at Winner Aviation, where he will get to follow mechanics working next to his school at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. Ideally, he could see himself working in general aviation for a smaller company like Winner someday.

Downing was among the 120 students from PIA, including 30 about to graduate in December, who had the opportunity to attend a career fair in the lobby of the airport Wednesday. About 18 employers came from across the country to meet prospective employees who could soon all complete the 16-month program and be in the workforce, or at least receive specialized training in their facilities.

Gulfstream representatives Kevin C. Stanko, left, a PIA graduate, and Pete Marcks talk to PIA students Nick Durig, Simon Keatley and Gavin Meeker about opportunities with the company.

Positions are abundant.

“We’re significantly behind in meeting our targets for students to enter the workforce,” said Joe DeRamo, campus director for PIA. “So we absolutely need more. I still have some room. … We’re not at capacity yet. So I highly encourage students to look at, if not aviation maintenance, aviation and aerospace in general. Anything in aviation and aerospace is a great find right now.”

After going through the program, students can diversify into the areas that interest them in aviation and come away with a great-paying job. Employers at the job fair, depending where the job is located, were mentioning starting figures in the range of $20 to $35 or more per hour.

Students who want to stay close to home could easily get a job in what DeRamo calls the “aviation triangle” of Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Canton-Akron, which includes Youngstown.

“For those students who want to stay close to home, they have that opportunity. But if you’re more adventurous, we use the cliché, and excuse the pun, the sky is the limit,” DeRamo said.

Eight employers were doing on-site interviews, DeRamo said, who knows 27 of the 30 who are graduating in December have already been offered a position or accepted one. And 10% of the students are already working in the field while they complete their program at PIA.

Jacob Craft graduated from PIA in 2022 and was back with Jared Kiser, another graduate from 2021. The two young men were recruiting students to come to GE Aerospace Lafayette Engine Facility in Indiana.

Kiser, of Girard, said he had 10 job offers when he graduated from PIA, and he chose GE, which allowed him to begin working in engine manufacturing immediately. They were hiring for 70 jobs, and the starting rate right now is $36 per hour, topping out at nearly $48. While the weather is the same, Kiser said living in Lafayette is a bit more expensive.

Still, Craft says he grew up in a poorer household in Lorain and never dreamed of owning his own house. Just 16 months post-graduation, he now owns both a house and a new truck.

“I have that because of the opportunity granted to me through this program,” Craft said. “It’s rough going through [the program]. It’s 16 months through and through, but the payoff is worth it in the end.”

Pictured at top: Tyler Downing of Sandusky is turning his passion for aviation into a career by attending PIA and accepting a job-shadowing opportunity with Winner Aviation.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.