The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, in partnership with the YWCA and South Seattle College hosted the first-ever Women in Manufacturing Symposium at South Seattle College – Georgetown Campus, highlighting the training and career opportunities available to women in advanced manufacturing.

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AJAC’s Executive Director Lynn Strickland (left) and AJAC Machining Apprentice Ebonee Heller (right) of Pioneer Industries

The symposium was led by a panel of women who are involved or currently work in manufacturing, including career navigators, apprenticeships and industry managers. The panel fielded questions regarding the role of women in advanced manufacturing and how AJAC’s pre-apprenticeship program, the Manufacturing Academy (MA), can boost their confidence and provide job-ready skills for a rewarding career. AJAC’s MA utilizes a comprehensive approach to retraining workers through 10 weeks of hands-on learning, soft skills training, insight into the industry, and applied mathematics.

Donna Raz, Manufacturing Academy Instructor dsc_0220 dsc_0196

The panelists debunked every myth in manufacturing, from the “dark and dirty” shop floor to the applied shop math. The most frequent question asked during the symposium rested on the presumption that manufacturing poses barriers to women including their lack of transferable skills, “you have to get in there and take the extra step,” said Donna Raz, a Manufacturing Academy instructor. The days of mindless heavy-lifting have been replaced by innovative techniques and state-of-the-art technology which some say, women are a better fit for. “Women have better hand-eye coordination and attention to detail,” said one panelist. These skills are ideal for many careers in manufacturing such as Quality Assurance and Maintenance Technicians.

Women – welcome back to manufacturing

Nevertheless, a booming industry requires a well-trained workforce, but how can an industry that is historically represented by men challenge the status-quo that women can play a role in manufacturing?

For starters, the industry needs to focus on empowering women to try something new and bold that takes them out of their comfort zone. It’s no secret, local manufacturers want to hire more women, but very few apply.

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AJAC’s Technical Specialist, Teri Hegel demonstrates machining on a HAAS CNC VF 2 

Advocacy for women in manufacturing is key to creating a more diversified and well-balanced workforce. Through conversation and encouragement, manufacturing has a strong chance to continue its reign as America’s backbone. Take on the challenge of building something new every day and as one panelist said “women – welcome back to manufacturing.”

tommy phs

Tommy grew up in a big family with three brothers and two sisters in Grays Harbor on Washington State’s coast. He was involved in school and sports as a young teen. However, when things started to get difficult at home, Tommy started spending more time outside of the house, hanging out with a different crowd.

At first, he was just hanging out with kids and smoking marijuana, but then meth was introduced to him and his addiction began. Tommy stopped participating in school sports and going to class, and in his freshman year he started robbing houses with other boys to pay for his new habit. He was kicked out of high school for his many truancies and arrests.

In his sophomore year he transferred to a new high school but things really went downhill when he started selling drugs. By the time he was a junior he had served time in juvenile detention, and when he was released he went to live with his grandmother. He attempted to attend school and work, but the violations and arrests built up again as his addiction reared its ugly head.

This AJAC apprenticeship training that Pioneer is giving me brings some light to the end of the tunnel.

Eventually, Tommy’s felonies for possession of drugs and stolen property lead led him to prison. He ended up serving a 20-month sentence in prison and several years on probation. After his release, he fell back into drug use – but this time he was selling heroin and meth. At a family event his former partner brought his child to see him and that’s when Tommy realized he needed to get clean.

When I looked into my son’s eyes I knew that I had to quit. I was sinking fast and I needed help. I self-reported my drug use to my probation officer and was put into residential treatment.

When Tommy finished the treatment program he moved in with family in Everett for support and attended NA meetings. His probation officer told him about Pioneer and he enrolled in the Roadmap to Success job training program to get prepared for work. He learned about Pioneer’s aerospace manufacturing division and was hired at Pioneer Industries six days after he graduated from Roadmap to Success.

Tommy has off probation and working hard over the last few years at Pioneer Industries learning all the manufacturing machines. He was accepted into the two-year AJAC sheet metal fabrication apprenticeship program and is excelling in the program.

“People need to realize that when someone gets out of prison they have debts and responsibilities stacked on them immediately. Getting hired in a job where you can grow your position is really important. I want to be a good father and provider and this AJAC apprenticeship training that Pioneer is giving me brings some light to the end of the tunnel. Housing is another issue and scoring an affordable apartment in one of Pioneer’s housing programs was a big relief.”

AJAC was granted permission from Pioneer Human Services to publish this article. Click here to read the original. 

The Victory Series | Episode 12 Featuring Matt Washburn of Senior Aerospace AMT from 4th Avenue Media on Vimeo.

How a business leader is keeping manufacturing and machining alive, by training millennials in skilled trades. Hear from Matt Washburn of Senior Aerospace AMT, who is redefining the stigma of manufacturing, and the impact it’s having on local communities.

Senior Aerospace AMT is a long-time AJAC Training Agent located in Arlington, Washington. Learn more about their company here.

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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.

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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.”

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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

In 2012, the median age in manufacturing was nearly 45 years old, a number that is expected to rise continually over the next decade. An influx of young talent into the industry will undoubtedly offset the widening gap between baby boomers and millennials.

AJAC’s Training Agent, the Work Force Development Center, partners with 36 Snohomish, North King, and Island County high schools to provide structured on-the-job training for Washington State’s booming aerospace industry. Over the last 23 years, trainee’s at the center earn high school credits while preparing their skill set for a rewarding career in aerospace and advanced manufacturing.

AJAC recently sat down with two current employees – one apprentice and one recent high school graduate – to share their story on how manufacturing has bettered their lives while obtaining job-ready skills. Learn more about the Work Force Development Center here. Watch the short-film here: https://youtu.be/iyRG0B2GOKg