When you walk into AJAC’s Manufacturing Academy at South Seattle College-Georgetown Campus the first thing you’ll notice is the intimidating computer numerical controlled (CNC) and manual machines scattered around the classroom, the second thing you notice is a group of students operating these machines.
Geoff Coles-Lelievre guides one of his fellow students on a Sharpe VS 1640 Conventional Lathe, giving him little pieces of advice while still letting him take the reins on the operation. It’s hard to imagine that just eight weeks ago Coles-Lelievre had never operated a machine like this and now, is well on his way to a career in manufacturing.
Geoff is thriving in the program, making parts with precision, leading by example, and tutoring his classmates. Geoff explains that the reason for his success is the focused nature of the program, saying “Having a program that’s focus is to get you into an entry level position is different from my experiences at a traditional university. Traditionally, you have a lot of prerequisites that aren’t directly related to what your major is. Sometimes that distracts or gets in the way of what you want to do.”
Geoff is self-described as “mechanically inclined” and has a background as an automotive technician. He has benefited greatly from the hands on approach the Manufacturing Academy provides, “Some people learn better by going in there and getting their hands dirty and doing things instead of being told how to do it.”
“There is so much material to cover over the ten weeks but there’s so many opportunities once you get out into the manufacturing field that the only way to go from here is up. There is just so many options after you get this training, it’s like ‘where do you want to go, you can work for anyone.’”
While the ten week program may seem brief, instructor Troy Ironmonger says the amount students learn makes the program invaluable for someone who wants to start a career in manufacturing. “We touch on blueprint reading, precision measuring, conventional and CNC machining, physics, electricity, hydraulics, pneumatics, we learn how to draw, we apply that to CNC machining and CNC laser cutting and by the end of ten weeks we are producing industrial maintenance technician students and machine operators.”
Geoff is set to graduate from the program in late August and hopes to take what he has learned to the advanced manufacturing industry, hopefully manufacturing parts for rockets and satellites, “this is a field where it’s easy to get a career and not just a job.”
On June 28, 2019, nearly 100 newly registered Youth Apprentices from across Washington State celebrated the beginning of their apprenticeship at the ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington. Signing Day brought together Washington State’s newest Youth Apprentices, their hiring employers and elected officials to celebrate a new opportunity for students to develop technical skills and valuable work experience for the state’s most robust industries.
Students signed their letters of intent along with new employers—signifying their commitment to start and complete a registered apprenticeship before they graduate high school. The 100 Youth Apprentices represented 12 school districts to work in a variety of industries including aerospace, advanced manufacturing, automotive, and culinary.
All Youth Apprentices during their program will receive 2,000 hours of paid on-the-job training totaling up to $28,000, tuition free college classes, and valuable work experience—fast-tracking their careers in high-demand industries at the age of 16.
About Youth Apprenticeship: Youth Apprenticeship transforms how education systems prepare young people to enter careers and launch into adulthood through mutually beneficial partnerships across schools, industry, and communities. These partnerships create opportunities for young people to finish high school, start their post-secondary education at little-to-no cost, complete paid work experience alongside a mentor, and start along a path that broadens their options for the future.
On June 14, 2019, the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee graduated 79 registered apprentices representing 48 companies from across Washington State. The apprentices were joined by their family, friends, and colleagues as they walked across the stage at The Museum of Flight to receive their journey-level credential from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.
For the first time, AJAC graduated apprentices from five different occupations, including our first industrial maintenance technician apprentices. AJAC’s Executive Director, Lynn Strickland was the master of ceremonies for the evening, “I want to thank the graduating apprentices for the years of commitment and dedication they have devoted on the job, in the classroom all while balancing their personal lives cannot go unsaid. They’ve developed and expanded their knowledge, skills and abilities to become the journeymen and woman they are today,” said Strickland.
Raquel Taijito, the first woman to start and complete AJAC’s Youth Apprenticeship, spoke on behalf of the Class of 2019 about her experience in the program, “I could not imagine myself giving a speech in front of a large crowd when was I younger. Nor did I imagine myself graduating from the Youth Apprenticeship program and gaining the skills needed for my profession,” Taijito said. “I gained the training that I needed and finished with over 2,000 hours of paid training. Now I can say that I am a proud member of the trades, a production technician, and an AJAC graduate! From this moment on, this is my advice to the people who are unsure or lost in their lives and want the change. I say to always move forward. But one must learn from the past, live for today, and hope for tomorrow. The journey will not always be easy, nor will it get easier. But you will become better if you take the smallest step to recognize the need for change and the first initiative to improve,” Taijito concluded.
Diane Haensel, AJAC’s Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) Apprentice Instructor, was asked to keynote the ceremony and speak about her experience as a woman in advanced manufacturing including her time in a German apprenticeship. “My advice for women getting into advanced manufacturing, you have to be your own role model. Don’t shy away from something just because there are less women in that space. We create a path for others to follow. My advice for employers to recruit more women, make it interesting. Help the young girls understand what the industry has to offer and show them what it means to be a machinist, a mechanic or welder,” Hanesel said during her closing remarks.
Diane also had special words for the graduates who’s journey is not over, but starting a new chapter. “Don’t settle in your comfort zone. Nothing great happens in the comfort zone. It is scary, but the more you step out of it, the easier it gets and further it takes you. Don’t settle until you found what really drive you.”
The 2019 graduates also hit new milestones for the Class of 2019:
- 4,455 Total College Credits Earned
- 592,000 Total On-the-Job Training Hours Completed
- 40,488 Total Classroom Hours Completed
Congratulations to the AJAC Class of 2019!
RELATED: View Photos from Graduation
It’s six in the morning at Tool Gauge, a Tacoma, Washington manufacturer that creates complex, high-quality plastic and metal parts and assemblies for the global aerospace industry. In walks a bright-eyed 18 year old woman as she has done for the last two years.
She moseys past a cascading waterfall in the lobby and through as set of doors to the engineering lab. On the other side of a soundproof window is a state of-the-art machine shop with the latest technology used to create precision machined parts.
She clocks in, changes into her work clothes, grabs her hat and boots, and walks over to her five axis computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine to manufacturer Inconel bushings and plastic parts for the aerospace industry. She has an order of 200 bushings to complete before her shift ends and first high school class begins.
Raquel Taijito isn’t here on accident or by chance. She has no family or friends who gave her an in with the company.
She was hired at 16 years old as a registered Youth Apprentice through a partnership with Tool Gauge and the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC).
Raquel isn’t a run-of-the-mill employee. As a Youth Apprentice, she receives one-on-one mentorship with the company’s most skilled workers while rotating around different departments, equipment, and processes.
As a young girl, Raquel had a knack for using her hands and creativity to make things come to life, “I knew I liked to build things. When I was a little girl I used to love to play with Legos and it would be all these funky designs, but I remember just enjoying building and designing my own stuff,” Taijito said.
Her favorite creation with Legos? A six passenger car.
“One of them was a car I built, and I was so proud of it because I managed to fit six passengers in it, and it was a four-wheel drive with I think it was about two inches and six inches long, and it was actually functional and it wasn’t a really crappy design. It was something I was actually proud of,” Taijito said. “My mom actually gave me the idea. Hey, you should go into engineering,” she added.
Mothers are always right.
Sophomore year at Stadium High School, Raquel’s engineering design teacher encouraged her to enroll in AJAC’s Youth Apprenticeship program as a Production Technician. The structured training, competitive wage, and college credits certainly enticed her to become involved. After submitting an application and completing two separate interviews, Raquel was hired at Tool Gauge and subsequently became the first woman as a registered Youth Apprentice in aerospace.
“Through the apprenticeship, I do make money. It’s on-the-job training. I learn while I earn. It’s not an internship where I don’t get paid at all. No, I get paid, and every 500 hours I get a pay raise,” Taijito explained.
The apprenticeship is more than training, it provides a foundation for young adults to quickly mature and grow within a profession they already have an interest in.
“AJAC does a great job when they go to these high schools and they start talking to kids. They’re only getting the ones who are interested in doing the work,” said Clint Folyer, Operations Manager at Tool Gauge. “The youth apprenticeship classes are in the evening. Raquel is able to go to class at night and she learns things at school and is able to come in the very next day and apply those things in an actual job setting,” Folyer continued.
Fast forward to 2019. Raquel successfully completed her two-year AJAC Youth Apprenticeship at Tool Gauge and will attend two graduations and earn two certificates—her high school diploma and a journeywoman’s credential as a Production Technician.
Raquel’s growth didn’t come easy. Each apprentice’s learning style is unique but with growth comes confidence in their skill set. “It gave me some confidence in terms of my abilities. The only person that is going to hold me back is just my mind, but I know that if I do push myself to whatever extent I need to, I know I can do it. It pushed me how to work alone and with others,” she explained. “The program pushed me to ask more questions because initially, I had a hard time asking questions or asking for help in certain areas. Knowing that I can do it, I became more confident in my abilities over time.”
The core OJT competencies in AJAC’s Youth Apprenticeship program puts a strong emphasis on manual machining, particularly useful for a company such as Tool Gauge that makes one-off parts for The Boeing Company. “At first I was scared to go near it, because I thought I was going to blow something up. I have my mistakes and that’s just part of learning,” Taijito said. “Particularly with the lathe, I have the most trouble in terms of figuring out the RPM’s and the surface speed. I really do enjoy manual machining on the mill.”
To better help apprentices understand skills used in industry, class projects are designed using curriculum from AJAC’s adult apprenticeship program. “One of my favorite projects was AJAC’s C clamp. It was pretty stressful, but figuring out the offsets and picking up my starting point with the edge finder was pretty cool,” Taijito exclaimed.
In 2020, Raquel will enroll as a freshman at St. Martins University with a goal to pursue aeronautical engineering. Her childhood dream of building things with her own imagination will soon be a reality.
“My dream is not actually owning a shop but it’s being a part of a company where I can design aerospace parts—something that deals with NASA or satellites. That’s my ultimate goal.”
As for her remaining time at Tool Gauge—Raquel still shows up five days a week at six in the morning, just as eager to learn and produce quality aerospace parts as she did two years ago.
KING 5 News interviewed former AJAC machinist apprentice, Evan Thomas about why he chose to pursue an apprenticeship after high school, even when his friends were off to four-year colleges. Evan completed AJAC four-year Machinist (Aircraft-Oriented) Apprenticeship program in 2017. Since his completion, Evan has raised a family, purchased his first house and is debt-free.
Hear Evan’s story that could inspire the next generation of machinists in Washington State.