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Tokai region aircraft industry attempts to attract new crop of recruits

Chunichi Shimbun

Aichi, Gifu and Mie prefectures in the Tokai region are working hard to train the next generation of human resources in the aircraft industry, which is involved in the manufacture of Boeing planes and the Mitsubishi Regional Jet, the first jet airliner designed and produced in Japan.

Even though the industry is expected to grow, it is having difficulty recruiting enough young talent, so the prefectures are working on promoting the aircraft industry and creating opportunities to introduce a younger generation to aerospace engineering.

“When you are using the drill, bend your body and keep your upper arms close,” an instructor said to the 10 sophomores attending the mechanical engineering course in Gifu Technical High School.

The students are learning how to drill rivet holes in order to fasten the fuselage panels and wings onto an aircraft.

One of the students, 16-year-old Yuki Akamatsu, wants to build a jumbo jet.

“The vibrations will decrease depending on how you hold the drill,” he explained as sweat poured down his forehead.

In April, Gifu Prefecture established Monozukuri Kyoiku Plaza in Gifu Technical High School where students can learn about the basic technologies in the aerospace industry.

The prefecture also invested ¥100 million to build a laboratory for the students to improve their skill in manufacturing parts and assembling an aircraft.

In addition, the newly renovated Kakamigahara Aerospace Science Museum will be open to the public next spring. The prefecture plans to use the exhibit to create teaching materials for elementary and junior-high school students.

There were 170 job openings from companies in the aircraft industry in Gifu Prefecture this spring, but only 70 students who graduated from technical high schools filled the jobs.

According to an expert, many students and teachers are not currently familiar with the aircraft industry, so students are leaving the prefecture to work in other industries, such as the automobile sector.

Aichi Prefecture also launched a course in fiscal 2014 on the aircraft manufacturing process offered to high school students, and 108 students have taken the course in the past three years.

In fiscal 2016, Aichi Prefectural Aichi High School of Technology and Engineering in Nagoya started to offer courses for the automobile and aircraft industry, while Komaki Technical High School is planning to change one of the two mechanical engineering classes to an aircraft industry class.

The Aichi Aviation Museum, which is scheduled to open this fall at Nagoya Airport in Toyoyama, will also be included in the school curriculum.

Meanwhile, Mie Prefecture began offering subsidies for short-term overseas exchange programs in fiscal 2015 to Japanese college and university students who want to study the aerospace industry.

A student participating in the program will be required to complete an internship at a company in the aerospace industry, after which the student will work on a research project in a university abroad for six months.

Ten students have participated to date and the prefecture hopes the program will boost employment for the local aerospace industry.

The manufacture of aircraft requires a high level of skill along with great precision and safety, and most of the work involves manual labor. In addition, an aircraft can last 20 to 30 years, so there is little opportunity for aerospace engineers to experience design work and new manufacturing technology in their career.

“We need to establish different methods (of attracting young talent) from a long-term perspective,” said Shinji Aoyama, senior managing director of the Chubu Aerospace Industry and Technology Center in Nagoya.

According to Aichi Prefecture, the global demand for operational jetliners will reach 38,000 in 2035, which is 1.8 times the figure in 2015. The number of operational jetliners in the Asia-Pacific region in 2035 is predicted to be 15,000, which is 2.5 times the figure in 2015.

About 80 percent of aircraft parts manufactured in Japan come from the Chubu region. Aichi, Gifu, Mie, Nagano and Shizuoka prefectures have been designated as Comprehensive Special Zones for International Competitiveness by the central government.

However, the aerospace industry in the country was only valued at ¥1.9 trillion in 2014, which was approximately one-twelfth that of the U.S. and one-ninth that of Europe.

According to experts, the industry has used its designation as a special zone to expand its production rapidly in an effort to nurture it as the next core pillar for Japan after the automobile industry, but it is having difficulty securing young talent.

Under the Comprehensive Special Zone, the industry plans to increase the number of workers to 25,000 by fiscal 2020 from 15,800 in fiscal 2011.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published June 3.