Cantwell says state must groom homegrown aerospace talent

By:  Mike Faulk
Source: The Yakima Herald

YAKIMA, Wash. -- With about 21,000 new aerospace jobs expected to be created in the state over the next 10 years, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell came to Yakima on Thursday to tout the need to educate Washingtonians who could fill those positions.

"We need people to fill the gap," Cantwell, D-Wash., said following a tour of the GE Aviation plant near the Yakima Air Terminal, one of many facilities in the state that offers high-tech jobs designing and building parts for aerospace systems but has trouble finding local workers with the proper training to fill them.

Cantwell, chairwoman of the Democratic-controlled Senate aviation subcommittee, said Congress should find ways to support aerospace job-training programs despite the slow economy. In October the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $20 million grant to 14 community and technical colleges and organizations around the state for the purpose of training future workers in aerospace technology.

Cantwell said visits to plants such as Yakima's GE Aviation give her an idea of what's happening in the sector and what's needed to improve it. With the congressional purse strings remaining tight for the foreseeable future, Cantwell says such visits are all the more important.

"We need to understand what's working on the ground and how we can grow that," she said.

There are about half a dozen aerospace-related companies in Yakima that employ about 500 workers, according to a release from Cantwell's office, with GE Aviation having hired 40 new workers in the last year. There are already about 84,000 jobs related to the aerospace industry in the state, according to the release.

The GE Aviation plant has hosted both of the state's U.S. senators in the last five months. Sen. Patty Murray took a similar tour of the GE Aviation plant in August to promote the federal Workforce Investment Act and also call attention to the lack of homegrown workers necessary to take jobs in advanced technologies industries.

"We have to do a better job as a nation to bridge that skills gap," Murray said in August.