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Gov. Pritzker Joins City of Rockford, AAR & United Airlines to Announce $2.6 Million Grant to Expand Aviation Mechanic Training

Press Release - Tuesday, November 16, 2021

ROCKFORD - Governor JB Pritzker today joined AAR CORP., United Airlines and local officials and workforce partners to announce a $2.6 million investment to fast-track workforce development training for in-demand aviation mechanics. State funds will be used to expand, develop, and implement a comprehensive workforce strategy including apprenticeship opportunities offered through AAR's Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility at the Rockford Airport.

State investments will help AAR scale to meet a strong demand for aviation mechanics expected in the years ahead and will expand the talent pipeline needed for Rockford Airport, currently undergoing a multi-year capital expansion.

"I'm proud to announce a $2.6 million investment to fast-track workforce development training for in-demand aviation mechanics right here at the Rockford airport, the fastest growing cargo airport in the world," said Governor JB Pritzker. "My administration is dedicated to rebuilding our economy by investing in people, and that's exactly what we're doing here. Thanks to this funding: AAR will create 50 new paid apprenticeships, multiplying its already successful model. Now, even more area residents will be able to enroll in specialized training for aviation mechanics."

AAR is poised for a significant expansion of its workforce in Northern Illinois, including plans to hire as many as 250 aviation mechanics over the next year as part of a recent agreement with United Airlines. These investments will allow AAR to hire personnel, help expand its partnership with Rock Valley College and develop new educational pipelines in High School throughout Northern Illinois, with training set to begin this spring. 

"We are excited to expand our aviation mechanic training and apprenticeship program at the Rockford Airport.  This grant will enable us to further grow our workforce in Illinois to meet United Airline's increasing demand for MRO services," said John Holmes, AAR President & CEO. "We are proud to partner with the state of Illinois and United Airlines to prepare more young people for in-demand careers in the fast-growing aviation industry."

State grant funds will support several of AAR's talent pipeline efforts to help grow the aviation technician pipeline in Rockford. Funding will be used to support the company in hiring upwards of 15 new on-the-job training instructors, and to invest in training and capital improvements at the MRO training center to prepare trainees on the latest aircraft and equipment used by airlines and the industry today.

Overall, AAR is expected to add 50 apprenticeship opportunities as a result of state funds and will also support short-term credentialing programs and incentives for experienced technicians to relocate to the Rockford area.

"The continued growth at Rockford Airport is incredible. With the rapid expansion of AAR, this grant will help ensure our residents get the training and development they need to obtain livable wage jobs and pursue career opportunities with this fantastic employer right in our own community," said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.

Illinois is home to a vibrant aviation ecosystem - including global companies United Airlines, Boeing and AAR - and is poised to see continued growth in the years ahead. A recent Boeing report estimates that over 600,000 maintenance technicians will be needed globally to meet aviation maintenance, repair, operations needs by airlines and aviation related companies in the years ahead.

"This investment from Governor Pritzker is critical to growing the aviation industry's technical operations ecosystem in Illinois," said Tom Doxey, United's Senior Vice President for Technical Operations. "This workforce training funding creates stability and sustainability to meet our current and future needs, making it possible for United to maintain, repair, and overhaul our aircraft right in Rockford, and is one more example of United Airlines as an economic engine for Illinois and the U.S."

DCEO has awarded a $2.6 million grant to The Workforce Connection, a DCEO Apprenticeship Navigator. TWC will work with AAR to provide curriculum enhancements to Rock Valley Community College's Airframe and Powerplant Program needed to prepare mechanics for today's demands with an increased focus on transport category aircraft and systems.

"Under Governor Pritzker's leadership, Illinois is investing in a strong talent pipeline that will keep our communities and our companies competitive today and well into the future," said DCEO Acting Director Sylvia Garcia. "The expanded workforce and apprenticeship programs that AAR is offering in Rockford will serve this region well, helping bring more Illinois residents into highly skilled jobs with opportunity for advancement as the airport prepares to expand."

In launching the new program, AAR will leverage existing partnerships with Rock Valley Community College's Aviation Career Education Center, TWC and other stakeholders to establish pipelines of new aviation mechanics, and to recruit diverse local residents for training opportunities. AAR received Department of Labor approval for its Aviation Maintenance Technician apprenticeship program in February as well as approval under the Valor Act by the Department of Veteran Affairs.  AAR currently has 15 apprentices in training and will be expanding this number to 75. 

"Thanks to new investments by Governor Pritzker and the State of Illinois, our local workforce partners and AAR will double down on the success of employer led training programs at the airport to ensure Rockford has the talent needed to meet industry needs for the future," said Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones, Executive Director of The Workforce Connection. "Through our continued partnership with AAR, a major employer in the region, The Workforce Connection together with our education partners at Rock Valley Community College will deliver the programs to support the demand for a trained workforce in this region."

Investments in aviation workforce training build on the Pritzker administration's work to increase career training opportunities for residents across the state and in a variety of industries. Earlier this year, Governor Pritzker joined the Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM) in announcing the launch of a $10 million training program to prepare aviation mechanics in the Chicagoland area.

AAR's expanded training program aligns with the Governor's efforts to increase availability of apprenticeship models in every community. Apprenticeship participants are shown to be more likely to secure jobs in competitive industries and have a higher wage-earning potential. Since 2019, Illinois has invested to expand apprenticeship training programs to every region across the state - and currently oversees 16,000+ state and federally funded positions statewide.

"The Chicago-Rockford International Airport is one our region's strongest economic drivers, providing thousands of jobs in our community" said State Sen. Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford). "Governor Pritzker recognizes the need to fuel the airport's continued growth and innovation by investing in the training required for our residents to have access to the highly skilled occupations being created here."

"The Rockford Airport has been a bright spot in the region's economy for decades, powering our transportation sector and creating good paying jobs" said State Rep. Dave Vella (D-Rockford). "Thanks to investments by AAR and the State of Illinois, we'll be able to train more residents to take on more high demand and high paying jobs in the aviation sector.  This continues the airport's expansion and cements its place as a vital transportation hub for the region."

"Rockford's airport has always been a source of economic strength, creating careers in this fast-growing field and jobs for working families," said State Rep. Maurice West (D-Rockford). "Thanks to investments by Governor Pritzker, and with AAR's ongoing commitment to training Rockford workers, we'll ensure the airport has the talent needed to keep pace with our modernizing infrastructure, and to compete globally for cargo as well as passenger operations."

The Rockford workforce grant announcement comes during the U.S. Department of Labor's annual National Apprenticeship Week, running from November 15th through 19th this year. Every November, National Apprenticeship Week highlights the efforts by states and cities across the country to grow 21st century apprenticeship pathways, providing job seekers access to an earn and learn model.

To celebrate apprentices and their employers and highlight the viable training offered in Illinois, this year DCEO is hosting dozens of community and virtual events throughout the week. To find or participate in an event near you, please visit

Please visit AAR´s career page for more information on open positions and career pathways.

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