Meet Heather Collins, AJAC new Regional Program Manager for central Washington State. Heather comes to AJAC with a breadth of experience in program and business development including work in the K-12 education system. Get to know Heather as she helps expand apprenticeship opportunities in our rural communities.

What is your favorite part about working in the non-profit industry?

I like working for places that help other people and my community. I am excited to be creating opportunities and helping people in their career goals.

 What will your new role at AJAC include?

I will be the Regional Program Manager for the Central Washington area. I am based out of Yakima, and will be making sure current apprenticeships are running smoothly and helping the team develop more apprenticeships in Central Washington down the road.

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

Quite a few people have told me I look a lot like Alyson Hannigan. I really enjoy her on “How I Met Your Mother,” but I don’t see the resemblance at all!

What was your dream job growing up?

When I was a kid, my family took a few trips to a fossil site and we got to dig fossils. My dream job for a while was to be an archaeologist.

If You Could Travel Anywhere In The World, Where Would It Be?

Traveling is one of my favorite hobbies, so this is a difficult question for me. Right now the places at the top of my list are Bali, Costa Rica, and Japan.

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.



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.

Below are the new grants AJAC has been awarded over the last 3 months and the partnerships we have forged with local and national organizations.

City of Seattle Office of Economic Development: AJAC partnered with the Seattle Public Schools Skills Center and South Seattle College in a successful application to the City of Seattle for resources that will support AJAC youth apprentices at the Seattle Skills Center at Rainier Beach High School, and to promote CTE, pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship pathways to Seattle high school students.

National Fund for Workforce Solutions: AJAC partnered with the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County in a successful application for a two-year $125,000 On-the-Job Training grant from the National Fund. The OJT grant provides a wage supplement for up to 50% of the first 200 hours of training to companies who hire MA completers and put them directly into apprenticeship, with a focus on women, people of color, veterans and opportunity youth.

Women in Apprenticeship and Non-Traditional Occupations (WANTO): AJAC partnered with the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership in a successful application to the US Department of Labor for a 1-year WANTO grant focused on promoting pre-apprenticeship programs and apprenticeship pathways to women. Through the grant, WRTP will support a multi-state initiative focused on improving women enrollments into/persistence in apprenticeship programs, providing $75,000 to AJAC in support of these efforts.

Career Connect Washington Intermediary Grants: AJAC successfully partnered on two CCW applications with the South Central Workforce Council and Spokane Workforce Council. The SCWC grant will support a Central Washington apprenticeship coordinator conducting joint business outreach with SCWC staff and building AJAC program capacity across South and North Central Washington. It will also support curriculum development efforts focused on identifying at least 1 new occupation for food processing/ agricultural companies (who are making up an increasingly larger share of training agent partners in this region). The Spokane grant focuses on building business engagement and youth apprenticeship program capacity across the Spokane region.

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.


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.”





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.