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.