On June 22nd, AJAC held its first virtual apprenticeship graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020 and 2021—ushering in 129 graduates across six different apprenticeship occupations.
These 129 graduates represented Washington State’s first Automation Technician and Industrial Manufacturing Technician journey-level apprentices in addition to Machinists, Tool & Die Makers, Industrial Maintenance Technicians, and Production Technicians.
The COVID-10 global pandemic fundamentally changed how we work, how we learn, and how we manage the risk to apprentices, coworkers, families and our community members. AJAC’s top priority this past year was to ensure apprentices can continue to learn, whether employed or not, while providing our instructors the ability to teach in environments that are safe, healthy and greatly reduce exposure to COVID-19.
Apprentices are hands-on learners and as an apprenticeship organization, our style of teaching reflects those needs.
If it weren’t for AJAC, I wouldn’t be where I am, making the money I am now, and I might not even have a job.
Emily Wetli, a Production Technician (Youth) graduate from Quality Stamping and Machining, shared a few words about what it meant to complete a registered apprenticeship, “Like most teenagers, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. If it weren’t for AJAC, I would never be in the position I am in now. Throughout my two years, I worked in four departments, ran multi-axis CNC machines, and most recently began working in the programming department. Getting to experience work life while still in high school was a great opportunity and one that I never thought was possible,” Wetli said.
“I have learned to not only love aerospace, but manufacturing as a whole. The youth apprenticeship has been extremely beneficial to my life. After graduating high school earlier this month, I was officially hired on as a full time employee. If it weren’t for AJAC, I wouldn’t be where I am, making the money I am now, and I might not even have a job. With AJAC, I have been with my company for two years, and it has been the best thing I have decided to do with my life,” Wetli added.
With the completion of AJAC’s apprenticeship, apprentices receive a nationally recognized journey-level certification signaling their hard work and perseverance. This provides them with vast opportunities as they grow in their career. The fortitude of our 129 graduates has equated to a combined nearly 5,745 college credits earned, 57,450 classroom hours and over 750,000 hours logged through their on-the-job training!
As we return to a “new normal”, we call on these apprentices to be leaders, mentors, role models and future instructors into the ever-evolving advanced manufacturing industries.
AJAC’s annual graduation ceremony at the Museum of Flight was postponed this year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Although we will celebrate all of our graduates during the 2021 ceremony, we want to share some thoughts from our graduates and employers about what it means to become a journey-level apprentice in the advanced manufacturing industries.
This year, AJAC graduated nearly 70 apprentices who are employed across 49 aerospace and advanced manufacturing companies in Washington State. These graduates represent five different occupations including our two-year Production Technician (Youth), 18-month Industrial Manufacturing Technician, four-year Machinist (Aircraft-Oriented), four-year Industrial Maintenance Technician and five-year Tool & Die Maker programs.
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.
SEATTLE, WA – On Friday, June 22nd, Washington State became home to 72 new aerospace and advanced manufacturing journeymen and women apprentices. The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) recognized the Class of 2018 as the largest to date, journeying out highly-skilled workers for the industry’s top occupations including machinists, metal fabricators, tool and die makers and the first youth apprentices as production technicians.
To receive a journey-level credential from the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, all apprentices must meet their required on-the-job and college-classroom hours in addition to completing a CPR/First-Aid Certification course.
“The perseverance of the 72 graduates equates to a combined 41,000 hours of college-level classroom instruction and over half a million on-the-job training hours,” said Demetria “Lynn” Strickland, Executive Director of AJAC, during her closing remarks. As apprentices develop mastery on the shop floor, they become more knowledgeable in their trade, until they graduate, and journey-out as master craftsmen in their own right.
Jesse Milbrath, a graduate machinist at Machinists, Inc., in Seattle and a member of the Class of 2018, spoke during the ceremony about his journey through apprenticeship, including the remarkable defeat of becoming the youngest machinist graduate at 21 years old. “If you want something you have to work for it. Without apprenticeship, I wouldn’t have been able to support myself, and the goals I’ve set forward for my life. Being here today is a culmination of people believing in me, and me believing in myself. Now, it is our job to keep believing in ourselves, but more importantly, start to believe in others,” Jesse concluded.
Understanding the value an apprentice is determined by each company’s journey-level wage rate. Apprentices start out at a percentage of that wage rate, typically 60% or more. Once an apprentice becomes a journey-level worker, he or she can physically show their value through this recognized credential.
Now, it is our job to keep believing in ourselves, but more importantly, start to believe in others
“You now have something to show your knowledge,” Milbrath said. “Instead of someone trying to take my word for it, I know my worth.”
Over the next five years, the Washington State projects a staggering 740,000 job openings will be available for skilled workers, including many in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries. Finding skilled workers is a daunting challenge for many employers today, however, through registered apprenticeships, vital industries can remain competitive for generations to come.
Congratulations to the AJAC Class of 2018!
View photos from the ceremony via AJAC’s Flickr Page.
Seth Hamilton was nearing his 17th birthday and knew he wasn’t going to college. His after-high-school plans did not involve a four-year institution. Rising student loans and lack of finances steered Seth away from the popular choice of college and universities. As a junior at Lincoln High School, Seth enrolled in AJAC’s first Youth Apprenticeship program for high school students. One year later, Seth, along with Sean Colyer, another youth apprentice, are set to graduate and become Washington State’s first youth apprentice graduates this June.
During a visit from Governor Inslee in April, four of AJAC’s youth apprentices, along with their respective employers, toured the Governor around their shop floor highlighting the impact Youth Apprenticeship has made. “We started years ago trying to recruit younger people,” said Marianne Eveland, Production Manager at Quality Stamping & Machining. “This program allows the community to have extra help recruiting the right type of people.” A thorough vetting process designed by AJAC and local employers provided companies a platform to find the right candidates who have a focus on growing their skill set in manufacturing, whether it be machining, engineering, or fabrication.
During the recruitment process at all ten Tacoma public high schools, Hamilton showed a strong interest in manufacturing. Lincoln High School, known locally for its outstanding shop class, laid the foundation for his success at American Structures & Design. Although he worked with manual machines in high school, Hamilton soon developed a new-found-love for Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machines, “Working on CNC machines is pretty intimate. It can be tedious at times, but you’re not doing the same thing every day. It has a lot of different things that can happen, different things you have to look for. It keeps the job interesting, it keeps your brain working.”
What else are we going to build and how else are we going to build this company? Knowing today, it’s going to be with the younger guys.” – Mark Weissenbuehler, President of American Structures & Design
Sean Colyer, another Lincoln High School graduate, works alongside Seth at American Structures & Design in the machining department. Unlike Seth, Sean did not take shop class during his time in high school. However, engineering class contributed to his success in AJAC’s Youth Apprenticeship program. “What I’ve enjoyed doing at American Structures & Design is mainly work on machines and have the ability to do more than just machining,” Colyer said. “Engineer Design in high school helped me with knowing how AutoCAD works, which all of our drawings are based off of. It’s nice having the background of how the drawings are made while I look at the blueprint.”
Employing high school students on the shop floor can do more than help a company’s bottom line and hiring needs. It brings an added excitement. It enriches the morale of the shop floor from entry-level employees to the very top.
Mark Weissenbuehler, President of American Structures & Design, noticed the enthusiasm youth apprentices bring to manufacturing, “As we got involved with the youth apprentices, and the younger generation, it was fun to watch them evolve, learn, and get excited. Which in return helped me learn and get excited,” Weissenbuehler said. “It filled the need for where my company is at and where we are going. What else are we going to build and how else are we going to build this company? Knowing today, it’s going to be with the younger guys.”
The trend across America for employing the next generation is changing. No longer does every student fit into the same mold as a four-year, college-bound student. Too many jobs and opportunities are being passed simply because the experience of working in manufacturing isn’t made available. Youth Apprenticeship has made local companies in Washington State find the diamond in the ruff. The diamond in this case is a determined, well-mannered, motivated, and technologically advanced high school student. Youth Apprenticeship doesn’t have to be for someone who will never go to a four-year college, but it can be for anyone who wants to connect real-world skills with their personal interests and aspirations.
Hamilton and Colyer are set to graduate on June 22nd as Production Technicians Youth Apprentices. The road to manufacturing has been paved, but their journey is far from over. After their requirements are met, Hamilton and Colyer will enroll in AJAC’s Machinist (Aircraft Oriented) apprenticeship program to continue their education and on-the-job training. But where would they be today if this opportunity didn’t exist?
“I hope as more and more people find out about this program, especially if they are younger in high school like I was, to seriously think about it. If you have a little experience, and you like it, you can start making money right away. Kick start your life rather than wait around for ten years, not knowing what to do,” Hamilton explained. “The fact I get paid to take college courses, is the exact opposite of what it normally is, it’s pretty cool, I like it a lot. But I honestly don’t know where I would be today.”
View photos from Governor Inslee’s visit on AJAC’s Flickr page.
To become a journey-level worker signifies a changing of the guard – an ideology that mastery occurs on the job – not solely in the classroom. For AJAC’s 49 apprentice graduates, these men and women have invested the last three to four years to learning, understanding, and performing some of manufacturing’s most vital skillsets – many which contribute directly to Washington State’s local aerospace industry.
AJAC’s apprentice graduates speakers, James Crotz (left) from Orion Industries and Heather Edgell (right) from Fatigue Technology
As apprenticeships continue to grow nationally and money is reinvested into the skilled trades, communities are seeing firsthand the significance of having a workforce that is prepared to take on challenges today and in the future. Over 20 companies from seven different counties celebrated a milestone on Friday, June 30th – a benchmark they identify as forward-thinking into the golden age of technology and innovation.
Up until 2009, many Washington State manufacturing companies relied on a traditional pipeline of talent coming into the industry to help bring new life onto the shop floor. With AJAC’s Machinist (Aircraft Oriented) and Aircraft Mechanic (Airframe) programs, seasoned mentors helped encourage and inspire the next generation of workers that will build tomorrow’s aircrafts and complex machined parts.
Keynote speaker Pat Thurman from Senior Aerospace – AMT
AJAC’s apprentices are not only fully trained and can “Journey out” as a master craftsman in their own right, but are called upon as alumni to carry forward a tradition of service – an obligation, to prepare the next generation of apprentices.
The support each apprentice received from their employer, family members, and coworkers was evident in the stories our graduates and keynote speaker shared. It takes a village to raise a child and an employer to raise an apprentice. The vast opportunities these 49 apprentices have to grow and expand their careers is endless. From master mechanic and maintenance supervisor to tool and die maker to engineer – these new career goals were solely made possible because an apprenticeship program was offered by an employer that believed in paid on-the-job training and college-level classroom instruction.
Chris Kirsop (left) receives AJAC’s inaugural Instructor of the Year award alongside AJAC’s Program Manager of Instruction, Danica Hendrickson (middle) and Lynn Strickland (right)
“A journey-level card stands for commitment, preparation, integrity, and fraternity – not just a credential,” said Demetria “Lynn” Strickland, Executive Director of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC). “Apprenticeship serves as the foundation for lifelong learning and advancement that will make Washington State’s workforce the best in the world.”
AJAC’s industry instructors and shop-floor mentors have laid the foundation for the next wave of manufacturers. These journeymen may go on to start their own company, run the facility at their current employer, or simply take the knowledge they have received to better their current work. With continued support of apprenticeship as a viable career-training pathway, Washington State will thrive as a leader in aerospace and advanced manufacturing training.
AJAC’s Class of 2017
View photos from the ceremony on our Flickr page and watch our latest video, highlighting Senior Aerospace – AMT.
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.