This coming Saturday, Oct. 5, marks the fifth annual international Girls in Aviation Day, a global celebration designed to introduce girls to careers in the aircraft and aerospace industries.

The event is an opportunity to get young women excited about a field vitally important to the future of Kansas.

As an industry with historic roots in Kansas, aviation continues to be one of our largest employers. The industry accounts for more than $5 billion, or 3.5 percent, of Kansas’ gross domestic product, and nearly a quarter of exports, according to data from the Kansas Department of Commerce. In addition to Wichita’s major aircraft producers, the industry employs pilots, mechanics, engineers and educators around the state.

Unfortunately, women still significantly lag behind men as a percentage of the aircraft workforce. High estimates only put women at a quarter of the overall workforce, a number that has been mostly stagnant for decades. Only 7 percent of pilots in the United States are women, and Kansas closely follows the national average, according to annual statistics from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Women make up 7 percent of flight instructors and only 13 percent of students, making the gap unlikely to close in the coming decade.

However, many more workers are needed in the industry, particularly pilots. A global pilot shortage has experts concerned about the future of aviation. Boeing released data this year predicting a need for 790,000 new pilots by 2037 to meet growing demand for both commercial and private air travel. With women’s significant under-representation in the field, they are a largely untapped resource that could meet the growing needs for qualified pilots.

Getting girls excited about the industry is a wonderful way to build future support for an industry that helped build Kansas.

Kansans across the state will celebrate Girls in Aviation Day with events inviting girls and their families to learn about the field and meet women working in aviation. Many events offer the opportunity to experience hands-on activities, like flight simulators and building electrical circuits. Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus in Manhattan and The Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita will both hold events for girls and their parents.

In Topeka, the Combat Air Museum and the Museum of the Kansas National Guard will hold a collaborative event for Girls Scouts from around the region. These celebrations are a few of the hundreds of local events scheduled around the United States and in 15 other countries. The event is organized by Women in Aviation, a nonprofit organization based in Ohio.

Kansans not close to an official event may still celebrate the day by talking to young women in their own lives — daughters, nieces, students or friends, about technology. Ask a girl about the latest project in her science class, how she thinks a piece of technology works, or if she’s thought of being an engineer when she grows up. Invite her to take something apart, or challenge her to fix something broken.

Getting girls excited about technology is always something to celebrate.