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College program enables a one-year flight path to top-demand career

Shael Riendeau, AMESBoeing predicts a global industry demand for 609,000 aircraft maintenance technicians over the next 20 years, making it the most in-demand occupation in the aviation industry.

Locally the demand is echoed at KF Aerospace, Kelowna’s largest privately owned employer. In the last four years, the company that boasts over 500 employees in Kelowna has hired 29 of Okanagan College’s Aircraft Maintenance Engineer Structures (AME-S) graduates (including the entire 2014 class), representing more than a quarter of their AME-S technicians labour force.

Those looking to have their career take flight within a year can still apply for the Feb. 1, 2016 intake of the AME-S certificate program at the College. Students are taught everything they need to become structures technicians that work on the skin and frame of an aircraft.

“Knowing I could finish classes and there was a high probability of a job right away was reassuring, and validated my choice in taking this program,” said 32-year-old Shael Riendeau who completed the College’s AME-S certificate program in December and started work immediately at KF Aerospace. “It’s not just a job, it’s a career, and in less than one year I was able to apply, take the program, graduate, and get hired.”

A career in the aircraft industry may have been written in the stars for Riendeau; his grandfather was a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force for 25 years. As such he was always exposed to planes when growing up, and found them fascinating.

While being an AME is a craftsman job, many are drawn to the industry for its cleanliness, job security, and work-life balance. In class students learn aircraft design, construction, installations, repairs and work with composite materials. The curriculum is up to date with high tech modern equipment and follows strict Transport Canada guidelines.

Partnering with industry to connect grads with employers is a pillar of Okanagan College’s success. Uniquely, the AME-S program is taught at the Kelowna airport sharing hangar space with KF Aerospace.

“It’s a real dialogue between the College, KF Aerospace and other industry stakeholders to ensure our students are exposed to the latest technologies, regulations, and standards,” said Dale Martell, Okanagan College AME program chair.

For Riendeau this translated to an education that was hands-on and prepared him for a job. “There’s a lot of shop time and you practice all your hand-skills such as riveting, drilling, and accuracy continuously.”

He adds that going on tours of KF Aerospace throughout the year was a great way to develop a solid idea of what the job would entail upon graduation and to build a rapport with those whom he now calls colleagues.

“They’d take us on tours when they had an interesting project in the hangar,” explained Riendeau. “I remember once they were adding a cargo door to the body of an airplane that previously didn’t have one, that was really cool. Being able to ask questions and integrate this learning into my education was definitely an asset.”

“By sharing our facility with the College, we see the students, who are potential hires, evolve to develop the precision skills needed to be job-ready in helping make planes safe to fly,” said Grant Stevens, Director of Human Resources at KF Aerospace. “As a nice synergy, by the time we are ready to interview them they too have a foundation in who we are as a company, what we do, and what we look for.

“At KF Aerospace we hire for the long-term, and while we hire from all over Canada, hiring locally ensures that these individual are here for the long haul, as they have established roots in the region.”  

Over 70 per cent of the College’s AME-S graduates are hired locally in the aircraft and helicopter industry, while others go on to work provincially, nationally or globally in this exciting industry that includes the armed forces, search and rescue and airline companies.   

For more information about the AME-S program starting Feb. 1 and to apply visit: