Tinker freezes out Metro Tech graduates

Friday, May 16th 2008, 6:28 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

Larry Gilley, 50, is 14 months into the 18-month training program at a Metro Technology center in Oklahoma City. He's a former General Motors worker and excited to be training for work in what he sees as an industry full of opportunity in the metro.

"Definitely Tinker was an option," he said.

Students like Gilley at Metro Tech have put in more than a year of intense classroom and lab work with the expectation that a job would be waiting for them when they graduate from the airframe and power plant program. But this week, participants in the program learned Tinker's 76th Maintenance Wing has put a freeze on civilian hiring from a total of three technology centers in the area, at least for now.

Tinker Air Force Base has had a very successful apprenticeship program with Metro Tech since 2001. Metro Tech officials said they graduate about 120 people from their airframe and power plant program each year, and about 95 percent of them usually go to work at Tinker. About 611 graduates in total from the program have been hired at Tinker, but for now the partnership has come to an end.  

The 76th Maintenance Wing sent out a letter sent out on Thursday saying that due to budget constraints, Tinker is temporarily suspending the apprenticeship program with Metro Tech.

"I guess my initial response would have been disappointed, naturally; because it takes away an option, a very good option," Gilley said.  

Metro Tech's aviation center director Pete Lee said there are plenty of other places where these students could get jobs, although perhaps not in Oklahoma right now.

However, Lee is optimistic the Tinker tie isn't cut for good. 

"I view it as a speed bump in our process that we're going through now. Some of our students may view it as a major chuck-hole that they've hit, but I think it's something that's temporary. I trust what the letter says, that it's a temporary issue and that they'll be back," Lee said.

Some students were not as trusting as Lee in Tinker officials. One student believes the letter, which was dated May 1, was not released earlier because Tinker officials were waiting for the Tinker bond issue to pass. Tinker officials insist the timing is just a coincidence and that the letter needed to be approved by several people before it could be released.

While the Tinker hiring freeze has some students very concerned, Gilley said he's not worried.

"I just look at this as another situation where I'm gonna use what I learn here. I'm gonna adapt and overcome," he said.