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A Helicopter Mechanic’s Manufacturing Career Takes Off

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Marsalis Leonard didn’t grow up in a gearhead family, but from the beginning of his eight years as a helicopter mechanic in the U.S. Army, he was immersed in a world of skills he would never have anticipated seeking out on his own.

  • “The Army was my introduction to mechanics,” said Leonard. “It taught me how different machines and processes work together, but it also taught me how to grasp hands-on knowledge and put it to use.”

A new career: That kind of experience served Leonard well when he transitioned out of the army in 2020. He had considered working in civilian aviation, but the process would have required additional education and a range of specific certificates. For Leonard, more school wasn’t a priority—and when he learned about the Manufacturing Institute’s Heroes MAKE America program at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to get started in a new field by putting his existing capabilities to use.

  • “I wanted to jump into something with the skills I already had,” said Leonard. “Heroes MAKE America seemed like a great place to enhance my skills and turn them into a new career.”

An immersive program: The MI—the workforce development and education partner of the NAM—designed Heroes MAKE America as an integrated certification and career-readiness training program that helps prepare transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard members, reservists and military spouses for careers in manufacturing. The initiative offers in-person trainings and remote training options, as well as career support and placement. So far, the program has a 90% placement rate with graduates in 42 states across the country.

A learning opportunity: While Leonard brought plenty of his own experience to the table, Heroes MAKE America still offered valuable information and practical training in industrial maintenance that he continues to use today.

  • “It was very enlightening,” said Leonard. “Heroes gave you an education in basic electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics and mechanics. It taught you to read schematics and diagrams, which was probably the first thing I was able to grasp. It was very hands-on.”

A new path: Through his experience in Heroes, Leonard was hired as a maintenance technician at a Waxahachie, Texas, facility owned by Georgia-Pacific—a pulp and paper manufacturer based in Atlanta, Georgia. While the role may be different from his experience in the military, the Heroes program prepared him to take on his new challenges.

  • “I learned an insane amount,” said Leonard. “At first, it seemed overwhelming the amount I didn’t know. But I also was able to see people who have been in the industry for years—and they started out as kids with no experience. So, you work hard, pay attention, ask questions and learn from your mistakes. You’ll learn something—and you’ll use that knowledge.”

Get involved: Want to support Heroes MAKE America? Click here to learn more.

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