Cantwell: Aerospace Jobs Poised to Grow in Central Washington with the Right Investments

Cantwell Tours GE Aviation, Calls for Investment in Skills Programs to Support More than 500 Aerospace Jobs in Yakima

YAKIMA, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) toured Yakima’s GE Aviation and highlighted the importance of investing in aerospace jobs programs to help close today’s aerospace skills gap and ensure continued industry growth and competitiveness.

GE Aviation is a growing aerospace company, having hired 40 workers last year, but continues to face challenges in finding qualified workers to fill vacancies. GE Aviation – and aviation leaders from across the state of Washington – testified last October at a U.S. Senate Aviation Subcommittee field hearing chaired by Cantwell in Seattle about strategies to develop a skilled aviation workforce and better meet the needs of a rapidly growing industry.

In Yakima, there are some half a dozen aerospace and aerospace-related companies employing roughly 500 workers. Some 21,000 new workers are needed over the next decade in the state, according to a report by the Washington Council on Aerospace.

“The aerospace industry is on the rise, and so are the suppliers across the state like GE Aviation of Yakima,” Cantwell said. “Washington needs more than 21,000 new aerospace workers over the next decade to fill new jobs and meet employer demands. And America needs thousands more skilled workers to seize aerospace job opportunities on the horizon. We need to make the right decisions today to create aerospace jobs now – and for our children. That means closing the aerospace job skills gap to ensure continued growth at GE Aviation and aerospace suppliers across the state.”

“It is critical that we continue to invest in turning out 21st century skilled aerospace workers to meet our growing demand,” commented Mark Sieber, plant manager for GE Aviation in Yakima, Washington. “Having access to a well-trained, educated workforce is essential to our continued growth and I thank Senator Cantwell for her efforts in this area as Chair of the Aviation Subcommittee.”

Washington state’s aerospace industry accounts for 84,000 jobs, representing more than one-sixth of all aerospace workers in the nation. But more skilled workers are needed in Washington and nationwide, due to a “perfect storm” of increased demand, impending retirements and new technology.

As Chair of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, Cantwell has repeatedly called for Congress to increase support for apprenticeship programs, Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, industry-academic partnerships, and aerospace skills training programs to produce a 21st century-skilled aerospace workforce.

On October 28th, Cantwell joined Spokane Community College (SCC) to announce a new veterans outreach program to connect veterans with aerospace jobs in Washington state. The program started at SCC will eventually be implemented at 14 community and technical colleges across the state to help connect veterans with aerospace jobs. The program will work to standardize the process for awarding community college credit to veterans for military experience to help get them through aerospace training faster and into aerospace employment sooner. Eastern Washington’s aerospace industry currently supports some 8,000 jobs and is expected to grow by 40 percent over the next several years, according to the SCC’s Inland Northwest Aerospace Technology Center.

On October 24th, Cantwell held a U.S. Aviation Subcommittee field hearing in Seattle on closing the aerospace job skills gap. Witness testimony is available here. Aviation leaders from across the state of Washington testified about strategies to develop a skilled aviation workforce and meet the needs of a rapidly growing industry.

On October 14th, Senators Cantwell and Patty Murray (D-WA) formally announced a $20 million investment that provides the capacity to train more than 2,600 workers with the skills needed by Washington state aerospace employers. The investment is supporting Air Washington, a consortium – led by Spokane Community College – of 14 community and technical colleges and several aerospace training organizations across Washington. The consortium was created to address and meet the needs of the state’s growing aerospace workforce in advanced manufacturing/machining, aircraft assembly, aircraft maintenance, composites, and electronics. The investment is enabling the expansion of aerospace training programs across the state.

Cantwell has long fought to make Washington state a 21st century hub for the commercial aviation industry. In February 2011, Cantwell played a key role in shepherding the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill through the Senate, which invests in 21st century technology for air travel, creating high-tech aviation jobs and improving efficiency for travel and trade. The FAA reauthorization bill would convert the nation’s air traffic control system from the outdated, less efficient ground-based system to a more efficient GPS-based system. The GPS-based system, called NextGen, will allow aircraft to move more precisely into and out of airports, improving air safety and reducing flight delays that cost the nation’s economy billions of dollars each year.

In 2003, the Senate passed Cantwell’s amendment to the ‘Vision 100’ FAA reauthorization bill creating the FAA’s first advanced materials research center of excellence. She successfully fought to have the new center based at the University of Washington. The Center for Excellence for Advanced Materials for Transportation Aviation Structures (AMTAS) leads the industry’s research of advanced aviation materials, such as composites and aluminum alloys, for use in civilian transport aircraft. Research conducted by AMTAS students and scientists helped prove to the FAA that use of structural composite materials in aircrafts is safe. Boeing incorporated ATMAS’ findings into many of the new 787s’ systems.

Cantwell also helped land initial funding to help grow a training program in advanced aviation materials started in the late 90s at Edmonds Community College. Since then, several other training programs at the state level have spun off from these initial programs and are currently helping to produce the skilled aviation workforce of the future.