Jhunnel Mina can't believe how good he's got it.
Even though he has a young family and a full-time job, he's still able to get free training that could propel the 26-year-old grad of Maples Collegiate into a job in Manitoba's booming aerospace industry.
So impressive is the adult aerospace program at Tec Voc that international economic development organizations in South Africa recently awarded their 2012 Global Best Award to the program.
The program is funded by the Winnipeg School Division and the Manitoba Aerospace Human Resources Committee, program director Greg Link explained Wednesday.
Tonight, the program will be honoured at the 11th annual Manitoba Aerospace All-Stars Awards of Excellence dinner and awards evening at the Victoria Inn.
Now in its 16th year, the state-of-the-art aerospace program at Tec Voc will graduate its 500th student this year, said Link. So far, 76 per cent of grads have gone to work in the local aerospace industry in manufacturing or maintenance, while many others have pursued post-secondary training, including grads who went on to Red River College or to the engineering faculty at the University of Manitoba.
Mina said the equipment is beyond anything he's experienced.
"There's a plasma cutter here I've never seen in a high school," he said.
The program's staggered hours allow Mina to continue working at his full-time job. With a young family, Mina could not otherwise pursue further training.
Nor could he afford tuition -- Tec Voc's program is free to the 50 or so students each year who pass qualifying assessments.
"It's a luxury. I have a family -- there's nothing additional I could put towards tuition," Mina said. "I like metals, I took automotive in high school, I like working with my hands."
Link said about half the students are new Canadians, many from the Philippines. Tec Voc wants to significantly increase the number of women in the program, now only about 10 per cent of enrolment each year.
"We prefer (ages) 18 to 30, but we've taken students into their 50s," Link said. Thanks to the success of the adult program, Tec Voc offers aerospace courses for students in grades 9 to 12 as well.
Darrell Glorieus came straight to the program after graduation from Grant Park High School last spring, looking for a way through the door of Boeing, Bristol or StandardAero, the big three of Winnipeg's aerospace industry. "I took shops in high school, but nothing like this," he said.
Jasper Nepomuceno finished high school and studied computer science in university in the Philippines, but the 24-year-old jumped at the chance to get a taste of the different jobs open to him in aerospace.
Over the 16 years Tec Voc has been training adults, major changes have occurred, such as lightweight aircraft and the use of composite materials, changes Tec Voc is able to accommodate, Link said.
Teacher Brian Weiser said Tec Voc encourages its grads to find an employer who will give them a job while placing them in an apprenticeship program, thereby saving post-secondary tuition costs.
Teacher Ray Thomson said some companies will pay for workers to attend college and university -- even engineering school -- in return for a five-year commitment.
The industry has "tons of growth," said Thomson.