Cantwell, Spokane Community College Unveil New Details of Program to Connect Veterans with Aerospace Jobs

At new aerospace training facility, Senator says more training needed to produce 21st century skilled workers the growing Inland Northwest aerospace industry needs

SPOKANE, WA – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Spokane Community College (SCC) in announcing a new veterans outreach program to connect veterans with jobs in the Inland Northwest’s growing aerospace industry.

SCC is starting a new veterans outreach program that will be implemented statewide at 14 community and technical colleges to help connect veterans with aerospace jobs. SCC announced Friday that they will hire a veterans coordinator by the end of 2011, who will also 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. SCC expects to have the program up and running by spring 2012. Across America, one in four young veterans is currently unemployed.

Cantwell also joined Spokane aerospace leaders to discuss the importance of investing in skills training to support the needs of 80 aerospace employers in the Inland Northwest. 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. Spokane Community College is expanding its aerospace training over the next year thanks to support from a $20 million investment backed by Cantwell. The investment provides the capacity to train more than 2,600 workers across the state.

“We need to act now to ready a 21st century skilled workforce that Inland Northwest aerospace employers depend on,” Cantwell said at today’s roundtable. “This is a pivotal point for the competitiveness of America’s aerospace industry – an industry that is rapidly growing in the Inland Northwest. Washington needs more than 21,000 new aerospace workers over the next decade to fill new jobs and meet employer demands. We need to make the right decisions today to create aerospace jobs now – and for our children.”

While visiting SCC’s new aerospace training building, Cantwell led a roundtable discussion with a Spokane aerospace employer, workforce development representatives and educators to highlight strategies to produce skilled aerospace workers to close the job skills gap and maintain U.S. competitiveness in aerospace. Cantwell also participated in a student demonstration of computer-programmed machinery that cuts precision metal parts used in the aviation industry.

On Monday, October 24th, Cantwell held a U.S. Aviation Subcommittee field hearing Monday in Seattle on closing the aerospace job skills gap. Witness testimony available here.Aviation leaders from across the state of Washington – including Absolute Aviation Service of Spokane – testified about strategies to develop a skilled aviation workforce and meet the needs of a rapidly growing industry. On October 16th, Cantwell toured Associated Painters, a growing Spokane aerospace company, to highlight the need for more skilled aerospace workers and expanding aerospace training opportunities in the region.

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, including at Spokane Community College.

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. Washington state’s 650 aerospace companies employ 84,000 workers, representing more than one-sixth of all aerospace workers in the nation.

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 located in the Inland Northwest. Spokane Community College plans on creating a new aerospace training program in composites manufacturing by next spring.

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.