Aerospace training in state gets $20 million boost from federal grant

By:  Michelle Dunlop, Herald Writer
Source: Everett Herald

Washingtonians interested in a career in aerospace will have more opportunities for training, thanks to a $20 million federal grant.

The U.S. Department of Labor grant was first announced Sept. 30. On Friday, representatives of the 14 community colleges, technical schools and training organizations involved met Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., in Seattle to provide a general overview of how the $20 million will be used.

"This program is about putting Washingtonians back to work," Cantwell said.

The senator praised the comprehensive approach that would provide training for aerospace jobs across Washington state, noting that Spokane Community College had the lead role in the grant.

Joe Dunlap, president of the Spokane college, said the group will focus on some key areas of training, such as aircraft maintenance, composites, advanced manufacturing and avionics. Different colleges will specialize in various areas.

Overall, the group will look to provide a variety of opportunities for people to gain training in aerospace including apprenticeship programs through the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, short-term training and two-year certificate programs.

The consortium of colleges will get the $20 million over a three-year period, during which time the group expects to train about 2,600 people. But Dunlap said that the steps the colleges and training organizations are taking to expand capacity will last well beyond three years.

"This will build the capacity to train people into the future," he said.

Having training programs in place to build and sustain a skilled workforce will be key in the state's effort to land future work on Boeing's 737 re-engined jet, called the 737 MAX. Boeing has built its popular single-aisle 737 in Renton for decades but said it hasn't decided where the 737 MAX will be built.

Aerospace is also one of the few industries in the state that is hiring at a steady pace. Boeing alone has added more than 7,000 people to its workforce in the state since the beginning of the year.

"These programs could not have come at a more critical time for Washington," Cantwell said.

Janie Pierce, director of human resources for Precision Machine Works in Tacoma, emphasized the importance of training programs to the company. "We rely on these programs to bring in machinists," she said.

Randy Elvrom, manager for Allflight, said the lack of skilled workers in the marketplace is making it tough for the company to remain competitive. The Seattle-based repair station is looking to double its number of employees, from 50 to 100, within a year.

"This program will mean that we can get skilled employees going forward," he said.

Murray said she gets "very concerned" when aerospace employers in Washington state talk about not being able to find skilled workers. The aerospace training programs funded by this grant should help workers in the state "skill up."

"This is a $20 million investment in Washington state workers," Murray said.

The colleges will be meeting in the next few weeks to finalize details of their programs.