Wichita Deals With High Unemployment

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Jobless Rate Rises…

Wichita’s aviation community has taken a beating since the economic downturn crippled the aerospace industry. Not surprisingly, the Kansas economy has felt the direct effects of this massive slowdown. While several aircraft manufacturers have laid off thousands of workers in the Wichita area, The Wichita Eagle reports Cessna’s large-scale cuts are blamed for an alarming 7.6-percent jobless rate in the region. Coincidental or not, the state’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent just a year ago. However, state labor officials also claim the summer is a traditional period for higher unemployment rates, as students and non-teaching staff from schools and universities hunt for summer jobs. The Wichita Eagle reports the seven-week furlough of 6,000 Cessna employees also had a measurable effect on these statistics. Citing state data, the newspaper claims the alarming 1.9-percent unemployment rise came within a month after Cessna's furlough. Fortunately for these workers, the temporary layoff ends this week with everyone back in production by Monday morning.

…New Training Program Offers Help…

Those aerospace workers who were not fortunate enough to get their jobs back may benefit from a special program. The Kansas Technical Training Initiative (KTTI) -- a public-private partnership formed by Wichita’s four aircraft manufacturers and various government entities -- has designed such a program for displaced workers. Students with previous aviation experience will be able to complete the requirements and take the tests for Airframe Certified Aviation Maintenance Technician faster than those who do not have the industry experience. Program officials stress the accelerated program is for those students who already have some industry experience. While the overall situation may be grim, officials hope this training will, for some, ease a transition to other work opportunities.

…But Few Can Afford The Tuition

While KTTI promises a glimmer of hope for those displaced workers, the financial terms of the offer may be shutting the door before any light shines in. The retraining program has been plagued with several problems and skyrocketing tuition costs have been cited as the main culprit, according to The Wichita Eagle. Since 2001, the technical college, which houses the program, has increased tuition for the two-year program by nearly 300 percent, from $2,387 to $6,836. The newspaper reports college officials informed students last week the new rate would amount to a $13,000 cost to be shouldered by students for the complete course. There has been a discussion within the college to relocate the program to a specially designed external facility. However, no such location exists and students wonder if they'll get the boot before finishing their training. School officials say relocation will not take place until a new facility is constructed and certified for operation.