March 11, 2011
Homegrown talent: Training programs help locals land aerospace jobs
Special to NWjobs
The welcome news last month of the estimated 11,000 jobs expected to come with Boeing’s new Air Force refueling-tanker contract made quite a few eyes light up in the area’s aeronautics training programs.
“It’s pretty cool,” says Shawn Sha, 21, a student at South Seattle Community College’s aviation maintenance technology program. “I hope I can get one of those jobs at Boeing.”
SSCC and other schools have been bolstering their efforts to train the kind of specific talent needed not just by Boeing, but also by an estimated 650 other aerospace suppliers in Washington state. SSCC offers a two-year program culminating in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificate, training graduates to work as aircraft-maintenance technicians.
Since 2008, SSCC has been part of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, a partnership with four other Northwest colleges — Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, Everett Community College, Big Bend Community College in Oregon and Spokane Community College — to share resources and develop a statewide aviation curriculum. The committee works closely with the FAA and companies such as Boeing to make sure they’re serving students by training them for the jobs the industry needs.
“In my 12 years of being a dean, I’ve never seen such cooperation,” says Malcolm Grothe, SSCC’s executive dean of professional and technical programs. “We’re creating great opportunities for employers and students in the state of Washington.”
Another new local training initiative is the 12-week program with the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field in Everett. Offered through Edmonds Community College, it’s designed to provide job-specific training for entry-level work as assembly mechanics and electricians.
Seattle-area median annual wages:
Aircraft electrician $48,053
Airframe and engine mechanic $54,700
Aircraft mechanic (non-jet) $61,000
Aircraft mechanic (jet) $84,000
Aerospace engineer (entry level) $69,060
Aerospace engineer (senior) $133,012
“Five years ago, the [aerospace] industry couldn’t find the talent it needed here. [Companies] were looking out of state for workers,” says Linda Lanham, executive director of the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington, which helped spearhead the program. “We started talking and found out the problem was a lot of them needed special, customized training.”
The center opened last June and has so far seen a hiring rate of 85 to 90 percent. It’s hoping to attract students from a variety of backgrounds, from recent high-school graduates or military veterans seeking work to Boeing employees looking to upgrade their skills.
In addition to the Everett location, work is underway on two additional training facilities, one at Renton Technical College and another in Spokane.
In order to help prospective students pay for these programs, Sen. Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, has sponsored a bill to create a student-loan program specifically for aerospace training. The bill, currently working its way through the Washington State Legislature, would give financially needy students short-term loans for aerospace vocational training.
Eide’s website says she’s witnessed the kind of success career colleges can provide to future aerospace employees.
“My son has gone through this program and I have witnessed the benefits it offers to aspiring vocational employees,” Eide says on her site. “Out of my son’s class of 48 students, 40 found employment shortly after graduation.”
For those interested in designing airplanes rather than assembling them, the University of Washington offers the only four-year aerospace engineering degree in the Northwest. Washington State University students can take aerospace-engineering electives as part of a degree in mechanical engineering.
Scott Eberhardt, chairman of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says that upper-level engineers are having the hardest time finding jobs in the industry right now, but that could all change.
“We’re filling a niche of training mechanics now,” he says. “But there’s also a concern that there are all these engineers who are going to retire, and then we’ll have to figure that out, too.”
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