Cantwell: ‘Aerospace Skills Training Needed to Support SW WA Job Growth, Maintain American Competiveness’

Senator Calls for Investment in Education and Skills Programs to Support 18 Clark Co. Aerospace-Related Employers

VANCOUVER, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hosted a roundtable discussion with a Vancouver aerospace employer, educators and students to highlight strategies to produce 21st century skilled aerospace workers and maintain U.S. competitiveness in aerospace.

Washington state’s 650 aerospace companies employ 84,000 workers, representing more than one-sixth of all aerospace workers in the nation. In Southwest Washington, there are 26 aerospace and aerospace-related companies, with 18 in Clark County employing more than 1,000 workers.

Cantwell held a U.S. Aviation Subcommittee field hearing Monday in Seattle on closing the aerospace job skills gap. 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.

More skilled workers are needed in Washington and nationwide, due to a “perfect storm” of increased demand, impending retirements and new technology. Some 21,000 new workers are needed over the next decade in the state, according to a report by the Washington Council on Aerospace. Nationwide, the broader aerospace industry plans on hiring 32,000 workers this year, according to the 2011 Aviation Week Workforce Study.

“We need to act now to ready a 21st century skilled workforce that Southwest Washington aerospace employers like Insitu depend on,” Cantwell said at today’s roundtable. “This is a pivotal point for the competitiveness of America’s aerospace industry. 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.”

Demand for American aerospace products is expected to rise over the next decades, with Boeing projecting demand at 33,000 commercial aircraft over the next 20 years. At the same time, many in America’s aerospace workforce are approaching retirement. Jim Bearden of the International Association of Machinists District Lodge 751 testified at Monday’s field hearing that nearly one-third of the union’s 30,000 members in the state are projected to retire in the next five-to-seven years.

As American aerospace manufacturing faces increased retirements and greater demand, emerging technologies – such as the composites used in the Boeing 787 – require additional training. This increasing demand for skilled and flexible workers also impacts hundreds of small and medium-sized aerospace employers across the state – including many Boeing suppliers like Insitu.

To help produce a 21st century skilled aerospace workforce, Cantwell and roundtable participants discussed the need for improved aerospace training, including apprenticeship programs, Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, and industry-academic partnerships. Also key to readying a 21st aerospace workforce is interesting youth earlier in the education system to pursue careers in aerospace. Laureano Mier of Pearson Air Museum discussed the Museum’s summer programs that help interest young people in aviation, and Anne Kennedy of Educational Service District (ESD) 112 discussed efforts to incorporate innovative STEM initiatives into school curriculum.

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 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.

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 satellite-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 aviation materials research center. 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. 

As part of AMTAS, 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.