Meet LaDante Weems—a formerly incarcerated youth and now graduate of the AJAC Juvenile Rehabilitation Manufacturing Academy program—tells his story on becoming a full-time employee at Tech Marine. We at AJAC are so proud of how far LaDante has come since his incarnation and wish him nothing but continued success in his future.

AJAC is launching a new Manufacturing Academy program in Federal Way through a partnership with the Federal Way Boys & Girls Club, Truman High School and a grant from Aspen Institute’s Pathways to Careers Fund. The Manufacturing Academy (MA) is an apprenticeship preparation program that has been offered in South Seattle and Kent prior to this latest addition.

Boys and Girls Club Youth Force Executive Director Melissa Jones is excited about the partnership and the prospects that come with it. “We believe positive youth development is a collective effort that cannot be solved by a single person, organization or company alone. That’s why it’s imperative to collaborate with others in our community to provide comprehensive programming and employment opportunities for our youth.” When asked what the goal of the new initiative is, Jones says, “Our hope is to provide an alternative career path allowing youth who choose not to pursue higher education the ability to earn a living wage.”

The Manufacturing Academy’s purpose is to give students the information, skills, and certifications needed to begin their careers in advanced manufacturing. Derek Jones, the instructor for the course, says the class is a great opportunity to give your resume the boost it needs, “The hardest part about starting a new career is getting your foot in the door. The Manufacturing Academy gives people who are willing to learn a real opportunity to change their lives.”

The newest MA addition in Federal Way will allow its students to gain access to machinery and equipment used in the industry while developing industry skills in blueprint reading, precision measurement, soldering, LEAN manufacturing, and resume development.
Chris Pierson, Director of Grants and Strategic Partnerships with AJAC, says the expansion to Federal Way is a fantastic way to cultivate growth. “AJAC is committed to diversifying talent pipelines to our employer partners and developing more equitable pathways into apprenticeship. We have been working with all of our partners to strengthen pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship pathways for youth through initiatives such as Generation Work, Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship, and other related initiatives.”

The first cohort started class, January 13, 2020, with 15 students enrolled.

Selene Castro is no stranger to adversity. She has been fighting an uphill battle for years and while some would crumble under the pressure, it is has left her strong and more determined than ever.

Castro grew up in the Seattle area; she moved from the Central District to Rainer Valley and attended Franklin High School. “Manufacturing wasn’t something I ever thought about. After high school, I worked in health care for a long time.” However, Castro would fall victim to an all too common narrative and became addicted to prescription drugs.

“I had fibroids, (which is a non-cancerous tumor that grows inside your uterus) which were extremely painful. I bled a lot and ended up being anemic. So, the doctors ended up giving me painkillers,” Castro added, “At first, I took the medication for what it was prescribed for. I would go get the prescription twice a year but then it got to the point where I would keep needing it more. Because of my addiction, I ended up getting fired from my job.”

Castro was let go from a job that she had for almost 15 years, which would be a tough position for anyone, but she was an addict, she needed to numb her pain. She explains, “Once I lost my job, my addiction got worse. It went from taking those pills here and there, to needing them to wake up, I needed them to function throughout the day—it was a 24-hour commitment.”

Castro needed money to fuel her addiction and wound up getting in trouble with the law. Instead of spending a year in prison, she enrolled in The Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA). DOSA involves a 3-month rehabilitation, which Selene says played a huge factor in her recovery.


[huge_it_slider id=”14″]


When Castro went home, she continued her DOSA program with outpatient care, however, she was scared of falling back into her old habits. “I was scared to get a job and meet people that were in the closet addicts, I didn’t want my routines to be normal or get into anything that could be a trigger.”

Pursuing a career in healthcare was no longer an option, but Castro needed a job to help support her family. She reached out to a local social enterprise company, Pioneer Services, in Seattle, whose mission is to provide individuals with criminal histories the opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives.

After speaking with the manager at the Pioneer Manufacturing Facility in Seattle, Castro was encouraged by what she heard, “The manager said he was in prison since he was a teenager, for 25-years, and when he got out, he couldn’t get a job. He said he didn’t know how to work on anything in the plant [when he started]. So, he took me around and showed me all the different machines and it was like, ‘Oh, I like these things, something to keep my mind busy. I like working with my hands and trying to figure things out, maybe I’ll try this.’”

Castro learned about AJAC’s Manufacturing Academy through her case manager and decided to start her journey towards her new career. She got a part-time job to supplement her income and started the program in October 2019.

She came into the program with little background knowledge, “I know so much more then I knew when I came here, I learned so much. I knew how to read blueprints but I had no clue about the math behind it all.”

She pushed herself in class and learned about CNC and manual machines, how to operate a forklift and understand lean manufacturing. Her instructor Aleksandr Derlyuk had high-praise of Selene from the first day, “I was amazed at the perseverance and growth that Selene has shown throughout the program.”

Derlyuk hopes that other people can be inspired by Selene’s story, “Someone like Selene proves that the Manufacturing Academy has the ability to change someone’s life trajectory in a major way.”

Now that she graduated from the Manufacturing Academy, Selene is looking to further her education at South Seattle College where she will pursue CNC Programming. She hopes this step will lead her to an apprenticeship opportunity with AJAC and is excited to start a less tumultuous next chapter in her life.

On October 24th, Seattle Business Magazine hosted an event honoring 15 visionary enterprises. AJAC (Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee) was one of the establishments honored and wound up taking home the top award under the category of Job Training. 

Executive Director, Lynn Strickland represented AJAC at the event and will be featured on the cover of the magazine’s November issue, “It’s great to be recognized as an organization and the award is a testament to everyone at AJAC’s individual hard work and effort,” Strickland said.

Taking home runner-up awards in the Job Training category are Orion Industries and Trillium Employment Services.

Awards in different categories can be found in the official press release.

The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) recently partnered with the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP) on a multi-state effort to encourage more women to enter into technical apprenticeship programs. WRTP was recently awarded a federal Department of Labor grant to support the Raise Women’s Success in Apprenticeships (RWSA) network of multiple non-profits, Workforce Investment Boards, employers, and unions from the West Coast and Great Lakes regions who are building capacity to better engage women in apprenticeship pathways and help them succeed.


Ebonee Heller, the winner of 2019 Tradeswoman of the Year, graduated the AJAC apprenticeship in June.


The program will provide services and inform potential apprentices in multiple big market cities, such as Oakland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, and Detroit.

Washington State has 7,972 active apprentices, but of these only 1,654 are women, a notable 10% (data which also includes women-dominant occupations such as cosmetology). The formation of the group will allow women to gain access to opportunities in various male-dominant occupations, such as manufacturing, energy, IT and transportation.

RWSA seeks to build a learning network committed to sharing best practices that not only help recruit more women into apprenticeship pathways, but more effectively leverage available public resources that can help women succeed, such as provisionary training, tutoring, and connections to supportive services such as childcare and transportation. This support system will be invaluable to women as they prepare to enter fields where they have not historically been represented.

The systemic change anticipated to result from the partnership is planned to be transformational. RWSA will bring together networks that normally work separately but with similar goals: meeting workforce needs and helping underrepresented and low-income peoples gain access to better careers.

Learn more about the new initiative through one of our partners Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP).


Christian Gray has never been a person who enjoys wasting his time. Christian has always felt mature. He thrived at homeschooling because his mom would focus more on the subjects he found interesting. He took this lesson with him and when he had the opportunity to learn about machining at Sno-Isle Tech, in Everett, he jumped at the chance.

“My entire life I was obsessed with learning about blacksmithing and metalworking and I was excited to go see what it was all about,” explains Christian.

At Sno-Isle Tech, Christian continued to flourish and develop a real passion for machining, making things, and helping his fellow students with projects. When Christian was a junior, he stumbled upon a flyer for the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) and was interested in the program. “At the end of my second year, I heard about Youth Apprenticeship and it was an opportunity to start a career out of what I found was a really fun activity for me.”

Through AJAC, Christian started his Production Technician Youth Apprenticeship at Toolcraft, Inc. in Monroe. The 2,000-hour program allowed Christian to work part-time during the school year and full time during the summer, maximizing his time and allowing him to be paid while he learned from his mentors.  He explains, “I had jumped into the Youth Apprenticeship with the idea of turning machining into a lifetime career. I stepped into work here at Toolcraft, Inc., telling them I wanted to ultimately move into the Tool and Die apprenticeship.”

Christian was put under the supervision of Operations Manager, Steve Wittenberg. Steve gushed about his employee, “Christian came in, he didn’t have a lot of experience, but he was so passionate about the work. With AJAC it gave him more of a direction with the classes and with mentors checking in on him. We have seen so much growth from him.”



[huge_it_slider id=”12″]



Christian managed to complete his Youth Apprenticeship with Toolcraft, Inc. but decided he was not done growing. He started his first adult apprenticeship class in September and has already found them invigorating, “At adult apprenticeship, everyone is attentive and engaged with our instructor. It’s interesting to go from a situation where I’m constantly being asked for help with things, to now, where there were times where I would have an answer but three other people would chime up before me.”

Christian serves as a model for kids who want to turn their passions into a fulfilling career that can last a lifetime. Steve thinks his passion has made him a successful employee, “I always tell our employees, you follow what you’re passionate about, not everyone we hire is passionate about manufacturing. But it’s the guys who love what they do that stay on.”

When asked to give advice to the next generation of students who want to become apprentices, Christian preached stick-to-itiveness, “Even if it doesn’t initially seem enjoyable or if shop math or blueprint reading seems too hard, just keep at it and it’ll come to you slowly, even if you don’t pick it up immediately. If it’s a career path you’re choosing to go down, there is plenty of time for you to master it.”

In the future, Christian hopes to continue to gain knowledge regarding his work, “I feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of the material, but now I get to delve deep and get more of a mastery of the craft and pick up as much information as I can.”

Christian looks to finish his adult apprenticeship and become a Tool & Die Maker by 2023.



In the United States, the plastics industry is the third-largest manufacturing industry. The outlook is strong nationally, from injection molding companies to high-demand 3D printing, plastics companies are expecting a 4.6 percent growth in 2016, which is projected to double in 2017. The plastics industry isn’t just massive — it actually translates to jobs. The industry employs nearly 900,000 workers in the United States alone, making plastics a key building block within manufacturing and for the U.S. job force overall. And that’s just part of the story — when you include plastics suppliers, the number goes even higher, with the entire plastics industry accounting for roughly 1.4 million jobs nationally.

Washington State is home to plastics manufacturers and establishments engaged in processing, marketing, support and captive activities that directly employ 14,150 people.

Nationally, Washington is ranked 22nd in plastics industry employment. Its home to a number of plastics dependent industries to make products or provide services. Plastics and dependent industries combined employ 763,000 people in Washington.

Similar to other advanced manufacturing industries, Plastic Injection Molding lacks credible on-the-job training programs. Specifically, Plastic Process Technician apprenticeships are non-existent. To further support this growing industry, AJAC has partnered with several Plastic Injection Molding companies to kick-off its inaugural Plastic Process Technician apprenticeship program in 2016. Learn more about what our Plastic Process Technician apprentices will be learning on-the-job.

ajac-mold-plastic-2 ajac-mold-plastic-3 ajac-mold-plastic-4

From apprenticeships to formal coursework and academic degrees, professional development is the driving force behind those who want to continually grow their career. However, finding a company that instills an atmosphere of reaching your full potential is hard to come by.

OMAX Corporation, the global leader in abrasive waterjet technology, recently offered a tour of their Kent, WA facility to AJAC’s South Seattle College Manufacturing Academy class which was led by third-generation Tool & Die Maker Dan DeWaal. Aside from the students learning OMAX’s manufacturing process ─ from design to manufacturing – the students were offered a glimpse inside a company that is taking the lead in developing their own from within.

OMAX continually provides exceptional customer service, but more importantly, understands the importance of building relationships as stated by DeWaal, “Multiple OMAX employees as well as representatives from companies that do business with OMAX commented on how highly they regard their relationships that seemed to be a result of a high quality product made in a healthy and nurturing work environment. OMAX empowers its employees to grow within their profession by driving continuous improvement.”

OMAX frequently hires machinist assistants to mold them into future journey-level workers. The engineering department has interns year-round who get a first-hand look at how concepts and designs play a vital role to ensure every customer’s specifications are met.

DeWaal emphasized the need for understanding what skills employees bring to the table by determining where their interests lie and what makes them excited about manufacturing. “It’s my job to get you where you need to go” DeWaal said to the students.

OMAX has several in-house programs for employee professional development including a waterjet training center and AJAC’s apprenticeship programs. “OMAX has teamed up with AJAC (Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Program) and offers this program to any employee who can professionally benefit from it,” DeWaal explain. “OMAX also encourages employees who demonstrate aptitude to gain advanced degrees from local colleges as well.”

OMAX’s employees demonstrate daily their contributions to help the company grow and remain competitive in our global economy, “A machine shop employee suggested a great idea about how to fixture raw material to a rotary axis that presented the opportunity to perform 90% of cutting in a single operation,” DeWaal added. “The fixture was purchased, implemented and has been a major contributor to increased product yield. “

The manufacturing industry can be challenging to break in to, particularly for job-ready individuals who don’t have the skills necessary to be hired at entry-level positions. The South Seattle Manufacturing Academy provides a holistic approach to developing an in-demand skillset for an industry that predicts over 2 million job openings nationwide in the next ten years. Equally as important are the co-workers you surround yourself with. Finding the right company, one that values different opinions, while demonstrating respect and equal opportunity for all, is rare. OMAX has instilled a culture within its facility that allows everyone to reach their potential, a notion all Manufacturing Academy students witnessed first-hand.