Higher Education, Human Resources, and Technology

Colleges swoop in on drone training

Industry expects more than 100,000 jobs in drone work by 2025 and an economic impact of $82 billion.

May 11, 2018
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Drones College Class
Grand Rapids Community College and Compass College of Cinematic Arts are offering classes on drone operation. Courtesy Thinkstockphotos.com

Two area colleges are offering public classes on how to operate drones.

Drones — technically called unmanned aircraft systems — are increasingly being used in agriculture, real estate, construction, film and a number of other professions.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International foresees the creation of more than 100,000 jobs in drone work by 2025 and an economic impact of $82 billion.

Grand Rapids Community College and Compass College of Cinematic Arts are offering these classes to help students meet the current and future demand of workers with drone-operating skills.

The goal is to prepare students to take the FAA remote pilot certification test. Pilots must be certified to fly drones commercially.

The $150 test, which students take separately from the schools, examines pilots’ knowledge of such topics as safety, drone operations, weather effects, decision-making and judgment.

After learning about how drones are being used and hearing gossip about a possible Amazon fulfillment center coming to the area, GRCC officials decided it was the “right time” to start offering classes, said Julie Parks, executive director of Workforce Training and Tassell M-TEC at GRCC.

“We know that a growing and diverse field of industries in West Michigan is relying on drones for a variety of applications, and they’ll need people with piloting skills to fill jobs,” Parks said. “We want to help people gain these in-demand skills in a field that is only going to keep growing.”

For Compass College, the decision to offer the classes was to keep students up-to-date with filmmaking practices, said Tom Lowe, the college’s director of marketing

He said it is typical for television shows to have several drone shots in each episode, for example.

Before drones, aerial shots had to be made with helicopters, which would take hours to prepare. And scenes that followed an actor over a fence, for example, were far more difficult to maneuver successfully.

“For storytelling, it allows a perspective that was very costly a few years ago,” Lowe said.

Besides preparing film students for careers in the field, having a certification would give them access to other ways of earning income.

Courses at both schools are taught by certified instructors and include hands-on training and practice.

GRCC’s instructor is Kwasi Joseph, founder of the tech consulting company Trinity Prime Solutions. He has worked with drones for the past several years.

GRCC is offering two classes this summer.

The first is meant to train students on the basics of drones, including types of drone systems, use applications, legal issues, maintenance, FAA regulations, piloting skills and safety best practices. GRCC has six drones available for use during class, which students will fly inside through an obstacle course as part of training.

This 18-hour class is 6-9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the next sessions beginning May 22 and July 17. Laptops are required. Cost is $1,490.

The second class, meant for students who already have practical flying skills, is to prep for the FAA test. This six-hour class is being offered 6-9 p.m. May 15 and 17, June 12 and 14, and Aug. 7 and 9. Cost is $495.

Students can sign up for either or both of the classes online at cms.grcc.edu/workforcetraining.

Compass College is offering one class that covers FAA testing preparation, as well as how drone work can enrich the final film product. The college has 10 drones available for use during class. The next three-hour weekly class begins May 17 and lasts 12 weeks. Cost is $1,500, plus $125 for class materials.

Lowe said the plan is to continue the classes each semester.

Students can call (616) 988-1000 to reserve a spot in Compass College’s class.

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