Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Workforce Development Nonprofit Tackle the Aviation Industry Skills Gaps with Virtual Reality

Man-Tra-Con and SIU Carbondale pilot virtual reality simulations to help students explore careers in the fast-growing aviation sector

MARION, Ill.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Man-Tra-Con, a nonprofit organization that works to support workforce and economic development in a five county region of Southern Illinois, today announced the launch of an ambitious new workforce training partnership with Southern Illinois University Carbondale that will harness the power of virtual reality to help students deepen their experiences in the field of aviation technology and gain access to employment opportunities in Illinois.

Delivered in collaboration with SIU’s Department of Aviation Technology, the new career exploration and training program helps prepare current college students for careers in the fast-growing aviation industry by immersing them in lifelike simulations that vividly recreate the experience of working in aircraft mechanics, repair and maintenance.

Using funds from a multi-year $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Delta Regional Authority, WIOA funds and apprenticeship funds from the state of Illinois, the new program will expose college students to well-paying jobs and help them become FAA certified mechanics. The unique higher education-workforce partnership is designed to augment traditional aviation technology programs through a new and immersive hands-on training experience built by virtual reality startup TRANSFR.

The aviation sector is experiencing sharp demand for highly-trained technicians to manage hardware, troubleshoot systems, repair airframe structures, and maintain aircraft engine systems, with increased airline travel and technician retirements adding to talent gaps across the industry. In Illinois, there were nearly 2,000 unique job postings in Illinois in 2020, but only 231 technicians hired. Nationally, Boeing’s 2021-2040 pilot and technician outlook report estimates that 626,000 new maintenance technicians will be needed in the next 20 years.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Aviation Technology provides students with the essential skills and educational foundation required to become certified aviation technicians and mechanics—with courses built to meet guidelines by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The program’s hands-on component adds a new dimension to teachers and guidance counselors’ efforts to help students explore careers.

“Using virtual reality simulations doesn’t replace our face-to-face lab work and training: it enhances them. This is about immersing students in the day-to-day experience of working in the aviation technology industry,” said Karen Johnson, associate professor in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Aviation Technology. “This work is about addressing the talent shortages in aviation technology by helping students learn and experience it up close before they ever set foot in a hangar.”

The immersive career exploration and training offers an interactive and engaging new way for SIU Carbondale students to gain exposure to careers in aviation technology, helping them prepare for apprenticeships offered locally in Illinois. The program is now actively in the process of assisting students who have completed the training rotation to secure apprenticeships with the goal of helping hundreds of other SIU Carbondale students explore careers in aviation technology.

About ManTraCon: Man-Tra-Con supports the economic health of southern Illinois by providing services designed to build a quality workforce. Special efforts go in to identifying the needs of local employers so that we can provide the quality workers each needs. With guidance from our Chief Local Elected Officials and the Southern Illinois Workforce Development Board (SIWDB), we work to improve the quality of life for all the customers we serve.

About Southern Illinois University Carbondale: SIU embraces a unique tradition of access and opportunity, inclusive excellence, innovation in research and creativity, and outstanding teaching focused on nurturing student success. As a nationally ranked public research university and regional economic catalyst, we create and exchange knowledge to shape future leaders, improve our communities, and transform lives.

About TRANSFR: TRANSFR is a workforce development platform that uses simulation-based training to give students and job-seekers the hands-on skills they need to get well-paying jobs. Together with community leaders, workforce development organizations, educational institutions, and business and industry, we are building a classroom-to-career pipeline to raise up people, the organizations where they learn and work, and the communities that they call home.

TRANSFR’s hands-on simulations provide an immersive learning environment that gives students and job seekers the real-world experience they need to choose a career path and then get trained to perform it. Guided by a digital coach, they receive expert, personal instruction that introduces them to different careers, teaches them how to perform essential tasks, gives feedback based on their specific actions, and assesses progress toward mastery of skills in real time. Those who have partnered with TRANSFR have used the training to help job seekers understand their career options, develop more skilled workers, place more people in jobs, and see improved job retention rates. For more information, visit


Ben Watsky

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