In 2010, the doors opened to a new type of tuition-free public charter high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Located adjacent to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, West Michigan Aviation Academy has been turning out more than just future pilots for the past 13 school years.

Any student from within the state is eligible to enroll in the school as space allows. Students come from all kinds of backgrounds. Some students live more than an hour away, while others stay with friends or relatives in order to attend. Yet other families have relocated to Grand Rapids to allow their students to attend the academy.

Businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and pilot of nearly 25 years, Dick DeVos founded the school with the goal of providing students with an outstanding academic education in a culture characterized by respect, personal integrity, and high expectations while also granting students exposure to a field he knows and loves — aviation.

DeVos recognized that aviation is a high-demand career field in which the pipeline of skilled and equipped future pilots was not keeping pace with the aerospace industry’s growth. As with an increasing number of other career fields, a college degree is not necessary to become a licensed pilot. Instead, technical knowledge in aviation is required, along with an advanced set of skills such as strong communication abilities, situational awareness, decision-making, time management, teamwork, and leadership.

With these factors in mind, DeVos launched a high school that would expose students to aviation and aerospace, provide excellent preparation, and offer an on-ramp to a well-paying career field.

Michigan boasts a significant number of public charter schools compared to other states, but no private school choice programs exist for families. Therefore, the best avenue for creating the aviation academy was as a charter school. This provides the school with public funding while retaining some operational autonomy from the state governmental regulations and restrictions placed on other public schools. Public funding provides for the standard academic offerings for each student, while private philanthropy aids in the special programs and assists with the school facility startup and expansion expenses.

Students at West Michigan Aviation Academy complete all state graduation requirements while also having access to many additional offerings to expand their horizons, including a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). For example, the academy offers up to 20 engineering courses, including biomedical engineering. Other options include courses in aerospace design, radio-controlled flight, robotics, and the physical construction of an FAA-certified, full-size airplane from an 8,000-piece kit.

In short, West Michigan Aviation Academy is helping address the pilot and aerospace industry workforce needs and is producing highly capable individuals — equipped with personal responsibility, integrity, strong work ethic, and professional decorum — for other career fields, including STEM-related and beyond.

The academy provides a promising model that warrants replication across the country. Aerospace companies could aid in creating a similar type of academy by helping defray startup costs and special program expenses. The return on investment in the form of quality trained individuals equipped for their future workforce needs would be advantageous.

Additionally, this proven model of an academically rigorous academy with high expectations and exceptional hands-on industry-specific preparation should serve as a template for other career fields. Based on the current and future anticipated labor market needs of a given geographical region, new high schools would be designed with corresponding industry-specific emphasis. This could include more typical career technical education fields with labor demands that likely won’t be replaced by technology or robots, such as plumbing or electrical.

Also, strategic replication of the model in other high-demand industries such as engineering, computer science and big data, advanced manufacturing, energy, food production, artificial intelligence, digital marketing, pharmaceuticals, and medical technology should be explored. Furthermore, equipping high school students with business and entrepreneurship knowledge and skills is vitally important as the new job market growth (not the mere replacement of jobs within a company) is largely occurring by startup companies.

Now is the time for industry leaders — whether individuals, companies, or networks of stakeholders — to combine their field expertise and access to assets with the recognized need for highly skilled and knowledgeable workers, and replicate the forward-thinking West Michigan Aviation Academy template DeVos developed. In other words, influential industry leaders should be encouraged to merge their expertise, passion, and network with their desire to prepare workforce-ready students who will be highly skilled contributors and potential future industry leaders.

Public charter schools will be the best avenue for creating industry-specific high schools in some states, as is the case in Michigan. However, with ten states recently enacting universal or near-universal school choice — and more states poised to follow suit in the coming years — the private school sector should also be considered. By operating as private entities, these schools receive the greatest degree of independence from onerous governmental rules and regulations imposed on public schools. While private schools charge tuition, the school financial model could be designed so that the private school scholarship or education savings account covers all or most of the tuition.

Continuing to operate high schools at the status quo — as has been the case for decades— won’t solve the growing workforce talent shortages. It’s time for a new approach. Replicating the proven West Michigan Aviation Academy model would be transformational for the industries involved and for communities, states, and, ultimately, our country. And, it would be life-changing for the students given the opportunity to discover and develop their passions, talents, and purpose.