Laid-off Kansas aviation workers find new opportunities

August 2, 2020 GMT

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Some aviation workers who were laid off in Wichita are taking advantage of a federal program that helps people looking for new opportunities or a chance to gain more education and skills.

Tracy Taylor, 32, lost her job on the 737 program at Spirit AeroSystems in January. She has since returned to school to study nursing at WSU Tech. She told The Wichita Eagle that she was able to do so because of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which is part of the Wichita Workforce Center.


“The TAA program kind of fell in my lap, and I’m grateful for it,” said Taylor, who intends to obtain her nursing degree through the program. “The opportunity is always gonna be there for people, but you might not know where to look. It can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start.”

Taylor is one of around 9,100 people who lost their jobs through either a layoff or a furlough following the 737 Max fallout last December, according to the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas. The Alliance runs the Wichita Workforce Center in addition to the Butler, Cowley and Sumner workforce centers in the region.

Once COVID-19 hit, job losses in Wichita grew. About 45,447 people have been laid off or furloughed in the region due to the pandemic since December, the Workforce Alliance estimates.

Coupling those figures with the 737-related layoffs and various others, some 55,000 people have lost their jobs in 2020. Some furloughed workers have returned to work, but the exact number has not been reported.

While experts and workers predict aviation will make a comeback in Wichita, laid-off employees are unsure of what to do in the meantime.

Russell Speirs, who lost his job with aircraft maintenance company Bombardier in February 2019 after his contract expired, said joining the TAA program gave him new life.

“With aviation, nothing is guaranteed anymore,” he added. “It’s so volatile.”

Speirs is now a full-time student at WSU Tech pursuing his associate’s degree in business administration. He is slated to graduate in the fall of 2021.