As ever-changing technology and workforce needs continue to outpace advances in the classroom, the skills gap has become a widely discussed topic in the business community. Do we have the talent to fill these jobs of the future? While dialogue is important, the skills gap challenge requires real action and collaboration – most importantly, between the education and business communities. By equipping students with the skills that will be valuable to them in the future workforce, we can ensure both Indiana’s students and businesses will continue to thrive.

I’ve seen the skills gap come to life firsthand in my career in the aviation industry. As the average age of pilots continues to increase, it’s estimated our industry will need 637,000 new commercial airline pilots worldwide by 2036. And with 1,000 flights each day to destinations across the continent, Republic Airways needs well-trained pilots who ensure our passengers arrive safely to their destination.

The key to training the talent needed for these careers is creating partnerships between educators and business leaders. When educators have a thorough understanding of workforce needs, they can better engage and prepare their students for success in high-growth, high-demand career fields. The problem isn’t something we’ve simply stood by and watched happen – we’ve pioneered revolutionary new programs that empower students to learn through innovative models, provided career exploration opportunities so students can get excited about learning, and educated teachers about what’s taking off in this exciting industry. And with partners like Project Lead The Way, we can more easily bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world, creating meaningful opportunities for students.

We created our Leadership In Flight Training (LIFT) Academy to revolutionize postsecondary education opportunities because the traditional flight training paths are not enough to meet our hiring needs in the airlines. By creating a flight school that’s more affordable than conventional approaches and offering classroom-to-cockpit opportunities, we became the only regional airline with its own training academy designed for a direct-to-hire path for its graduates.

To support students who are unsure if becoming a pilot is the right fit or who might not have even considered a career in the skies, the LIFT Lab offers a chance for them to test out a flight experience using a mobile virtual reality flight simulator. At high schools, colleges, and even local Boy and Girl Scout meetings, students can bring their education to life and get a taste of what flying is really like.

In addition, we need to empower teachers to have an active role in closing the skills gap. To do so, on July 26, Republic Airways will offer a private flight to EAA Airventure, one of the world’s largest airshows, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This flight won’t be filled with business executives but Project Lead The Way educators who teach Aerospace Engineering and Flight and Space. By sharing this experience with educators, we hope they can bring enthusiasm and first-hand career knowledge back to their classrooms to further spur interest in an aviation career for their students. Adding to the hands-on curriculum they already teach, now these educators can speak to the opportunities and realities of the current aviation industry.

Even with these programs in place, we’re always thinking of ways we can continue to engage students and our local education community. While solutions don’t always need to be as drastic as creating a new flight school, businesses can make meaningful connections with educators and students in their communities to create talent pipelines and ensure students have the tools to prepare themselves for career success. Partners like Project Lead The Way can help businesses forge these connections and make the most of contributions to students.

To Indiana’s business leaders, I urge you to build relationships with your local school districts to help them understand what the community’s future careers will be and to provide opportunities to students to help them get there. And to Indiana’s education leaders, I hope we can work together to identify and address current student needs and work as a team to provide them the experiences they need to build a strong future. Indiana can continue to lead in both education and business but only if we work together to create opportunity for our students.

Matt Koscal is senior vice president and chief administrative officer of the Indianapolis-based Republic Airways.

This article is part of a series with education nonprofit Project Lead The Way that explores Indiana’s Future-Ready Workforce. For more information on how your business can make a difference, click here.

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