Seth Hamilton was nearing his 17th birthday and knew he wasn’t going to college. His after-high-school plans did not involve a four-year institution. Rising student loans and lack of finances steered Seth away from the popular choice of college and universities. As a junior at Lincoln High School, Seth enrolled in AJAC’s first Youth Apprenticeship program for high school students. One year later, Seth, along with Sean Colyer, another youth apprentice, are set to graduate and become Washington State’s first youth apprentice graduates this June.
During a visit from Governor Inslee in April, four of AJAC’s youth apprentices, along with their respective employers, toured the Governor around their shop floor highlighting the impact Youth Apprenticeship has made. “We started years ago trying to recruit younger people,” said Marianne Eveland, Production Manager at Quality Stamping & Machining. “This program allows the community to have extra help recruiting the right type of people.” A thorough vetting process designed by AJAC and local employers provided companies a platform to find the right candidates who have a focus on growing their skill set in manufacturing, whether it be machining, engineering, or fabrication.
During the recruitment process at all ten Tacoma public high schools, Hamilton showed a strong interest in manufacturing. Lincoln High School, known locally for its outstanding shop class, laid the foundation for his success at American Structures & Design. Although he worked with manual machines in high school, Hamilton soon developed a new-found-love for Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines, “Working on CNC machines is pretty intimate. It can be tedious at times, but you’re not doing the same thing every day. It has a lot of different things that can happen, different things you have to look for. It keeps the job interesting, it keeps your brain working.”
What else are we going to build and how else are we going to build this company? Knowing today, it’s going to be with the younger guys.” – Mark Weissenbuehler, President of American Structures & Design
Sean Colyer, another Lincoln High School graduate, works alongside Seth at American Structures & Design in the machining department. Unlike Seth, Sean did not take shop class during his time in high school. However, engineering class contributed to his success in AJAC’s Youth Apprenticeship program. “What I’ve enjoyed doing at American Structures & Design is mainly work on machines and have the ability to do more than just machining,” Colyer said. “Engineer Design in high school helped me with knowing how AutoCAD works, which all of our drawings are based off of. It’s nice having the background of how the drawings are made while I look at the blueprint.”
Employing high school students on the shop floor can do more than help a company’s bottom line and hiring needs. It brings an added excitement. It enriches the morale of the shop floor from entry-level employees to the very top.
Mark Weissenbuehler, President of American Structures & Design, noticed the enthusiasm youth apprentices bring to manufacturing, “As we got involved with the youth apprentices, and the younger generation, it was fun to watch them evolve, learn, and get excited. Which in return helped me learn and get excited,” Weissenbuehler said. “It filled the need for where my company is at and where we are going. What else are we going to build and how else are we going to build this company? Knowing today, it’s going to be with the younger guys.”
The trend across America for employing the next generation is changing. No longer does every student fit into the same mold as a four-year, college-bound student. Too many jobs and opportunities are being passed simply because the experience of working in manufacturing isn’t made available. Youth Apprenticeship has made local companies in Washington State find the diamond in the ruff. The diamond in this case is a determined, well-mannered, motivated, and technologically advanced high school student. Youth Apprenticeship doesn’t have to be for someone who will never go to a four-year college, but it can be for anyone who wants to connect real-world skills with their personal interests and aspirations.
Hamilton and Colyer are set to graduate on June 22nd as Production Technicians Youth Apprentices. The road to manufacturing has been paved, but their journey is far from over. After their requirements are met, Hamilton and Colyer will enroll in AJAC’s Machinist (Aircraft Oriented) apprenticeship program to continue their education and on-the-job training. But where would they be today if this opportunity didn’t exist?
“I hope as more and more people find out about this program, especially if they are younger in high school like I was, to seriously think about it. If you have a little experience, and you like it, you can start making money right away. Kick start your life rather than wait around for ten years, not knowing what to do,” Hamilton explained. “The fact I get paid to take college courses, is the exact opposite of what it normally is, it’s pretty cool, I like it a lot. But I honestly don’t know where I would be today.”
View photos from Governor Inslee’s visit on AJAC’s Flickr page.
To become a journey-level worker signifies a changing of the guard – an ideology that mastery occurs on the job – not solely in the classroom. For AJAC’s 49 apprentice graduates, these men and women have invested the last three to four years to learning, understanding, and performing some of manufacturing’s most vital skillsets – many which contribute directly to Washington State’s local aerospace industry.
AJAC’s apprentice graduates speakers, James Crotz (left) from Orion Industries and Heather Edgell (right) from Fatigue Technology
As apprenticeships continue to grow nationally and money is reinvested into the skilled trades, communities are seeing firsthand the significance of having a workforce that is prepared to take on challenges today and in the future. Over 20 companies from seven different counties celebrated a milestone on Friday, June 30th – a benchmark they identify as forward thinking into the golden age of technology and innovation.
Up until 2009, many Washington State manufacturing companies relied on a traditional pipeline of talent coming into the industry to help bring new life onto the shop floor. With AJAC’s Machinist (Aircraft Oriented) and Aircraft Mechanic (Airframe) programs, seasoned mentors helped encourage and inspire the next generation of workers that will build tomorrow’s aircrafts and complex machined parts.
Keynote speaker Pat Thurman from Senior Aerospace – AMT
AJAC’s apprentices are not only fully trained and can “Journey out” as a master craftsman in their own right, but are called upon as alumni to carry forward a tradition of service – an obligation, to prepare the next generation of apprentices.
The support each apprentice received from their employer, family members, and coworkers was evident in the stories our graduates and keynote speaker shared. It takes a village to raise a child and an employer to raise an apprentice. The vast opportunities these 49 apprentices have to grow and expand their careers is endless. From master mechanic and maintenance supervisor to tool and die maker to engineer – these new career goals were solely made possible because an apprenticeship program was offered by an employer that believed in paid on-the-job training and college-level classroom instruction.
Chris Kirsop (left) receives AJAC’s inaugural Instructor of the Year award alongside AJAC’s Program Manager of Instruction, Danica Hendrickson (middle) and Lynn Strickland (right)
“A journey-level card stands for commitment, preparation, integrity, and fraternity – not just a credential,” said Demetria “Lynn” Strickland, Executive Director of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC). “Apprenticeship serves as the foundation for lifelong learning and advancement that will make Washington State’s workforce the best in the world.”
AJAC’s industry instructors and shop-floor mentors have laid the foundation for the next wave of manufacturers. These journeymen may go on to start their own company, run the facility at their current employer, or simply take the knowledge they have received to better their current work. With continued support of apprenticeship as a viable career-training pathway, Washington State will thrive as a leader in aerospace and advanced manufacturing training.
AJAC’s Class of 2017
AJAC Machinist Graduate, Irwin Downes shaking hands with IAM 751 Organizer, Jesse Cote
TUKWILA — Apprenticeships have the power to change lives. That’s the message graduates of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee gave in June, as they collected their certificates.
“If you had told me in high school that this is where I was going to be, I would have laughed at you,” said Ryan Booth, the class speaker. “What’s a machinist?”
AJAC graduated its largest class ever during a ceremony at the Museum of Flight on June 24: 40 men and women from 28 companies statewide, who had either completed a four-year course to become journeymen machinists or a two-year course to earn a precision metal fabrication certificate.
The apprenticeships trained entry-level workers to be masters of their craft, and “the next leaders, the next mentors and hopefully the next instructors in the aerospace and precision manufacturing industries,” said AJAC Executive Director Lynn Strickland.
Their certificates will allow them to work in good-paying manufacturing jobs anywhere in the world, and they graduate without the heavy student-loan debt that many college graduates struggle with, said Jesse Cote, a Machinists Union District Lodge 751 staff member who is chairman of AJAC’s governing board.
AJAC, which was started in 2009, now has 325 apprentices learning to be master craftsmen in aerospace and related manufacturing fields, Strickland said. She said the program’s goal is to “keep Washington state’s workforce one of the best in the world.”
AJAC came and found me, and gave me everything
During the ceremony, Abram Potts was honored as the year’s top apprentice.
Abram Potts alongside AJAC’s Executive Director, Lynn Strickland
He said he’d spent “half my life running the streets.” In-and-out of prison, he found himself in a halfway house were he realized that “I had to have a job.”
An AJAC recruiter found him and got him enrolled in the program’s Manufacturing Academy, a state-certified pre-apprenticeship program that creates a pool of applicants for employers to choose from. From there, he landed an apprenticeship.
“I never knew what CNC was – never heard about it,” Potts said. But now he’s training to be a CNC machine operator. “AJAC came and found me, and gave me everything.”
Like Potts, Booth said he never considered working in manufacturing. “I grew up thinking ‘I’m going to go into computers.’ I was a computer science major in college.”
But then he got married, and had a family to support. “I had to find the first job I could.”
After years of poorly paying jobs, he took a chance on an AJAC apprenticeship, which taught him skills that are “giving me an opportunity to be something, in a career that has the opportunity to be something more.”
AJAC’s Class of 2016
AJAC is strongly supported by District 751. Cote is one of two union representatives to sit on AJAC’s board of directors, and the union played a key role in the launch of the program.
“If it were not for IAM 751 and their efforts to secure our funding, none of us would be here,” Strickland said.
Working with AJAC is “rewarding and important,” Cote said.
“On an individual level, it’s incredible to see these workers develop skills that will give them and their families secure futures,” he said. “And on a larger scale, the work AJAC does is essential if our state is to retain high-skill, high-wage manufacturing jobs. If the best workers in the world are here, then aerospace companies and other precision manufacturers will want to be here too.”
Originally formed in 1935 by hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 32,000 working men and women at 53 employers across Washington and California.
AJAC was granted permission from IAM 751 to publish this article. For more information on IAM 751, please visit their website.