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.