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.
Robin Williams may not come back from the dead, but AJAC’s newest hire has a knack for bringing new programs to life. Meet Erin Williams, our new Snohomish County business developer extraordinaire!
What’s the best part of your job so far? I love the facility and shop tours from various advanced
manufacturing companies. Getting to see how the products are made and the machines our apprentices work on is fascinating.
If you could master one skill you don’t have right now, what would it be?
Playing guitar (or any musical instrument really). I wish I hadn’t given up back in high school, or thought that playing an instrument was cooler.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Be active. The best way to keep me active is to have a goal I am working towards such as a marathon, big bike race, triathlon, or fundraiser. That, and hang with my cat.
If you could bring one musician/actor back from the dead, who would it be and why?
Robin Williams. There is still so much to learn from that man. Such a loss of talent and awesomeness.
How would your best friend describe you?
Energetic, loyal, dedicated, and a little spastic.
The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, in partnership with the YWCA and South Seattle College hosted the first-ever Women in Manufacturing Symposium at South Seattle College – Georgetown Campus, highlighting the training and career opportunities available to women in advanced manufacturing.
AJAC’s Executive Director Lynn Strickland (left) and AJAC Machining Apprentice Ebonee Heller (right) of Pioneer Industries
The symposium was led by a panel of women who are involved or currently work in manufacturing, including career navigators, apprenticeships and industry managers. The panel fielded questions regarding the role of women in advanced manufacturing and how AJAC’s pre-apprenticeship program, the Manufacturing Academy (MA), can boost their confidence and provide job-ready skills for a rewarding career. AJAC’s MA utilizes a comprehensive approach to retraining workers through 10 weeks of hands-on learning, soft skills training, insight into the industry, and applied mathematics.
The panelists debunked every myth in manufacturing, from the “dark and dirty” shop floor to the applied shop math. The most frequent question asked during the symposium rested on the presumption that manufacturing poses barriers to women including their lack of transferable skills, “you have to get in there and take the extra step,” said Donna Raz, a Manufacturing Academy instructor. The days of mindless heavy-lifting have been replaced by innovative techniques and state-of-the-art technology which some say, women are a better fit for. “Women have better hand-eye coordination and attention to detail,” said one panelist. These skills are ideal for many careers in manufacturing such as Quality Assurance and Maintenance Technicians.
Women – welcome back to manufacturing
Nevertheless, a booming industry requires a well-trained workforce, but how can an industry that is historically represented by men challenge the status-quo that women can play a role in manufacturing?
For starters, the industry needs to focus on empowering women to try something new and bold that takes them out of their comfort zone. It’s no secret, local manufacturers want to hire more women, but very few apply.
AJAC’s Technical Specialist, Teri Hegel demonstrates machining on a HAAS CNC VF 2
Advocacy for women in manufacturing is key to creating a more diversified and well-balanced workforce. Through conversation and encouragement, manufacturing has a strong chance to continue its reign as America’s backbone. Take on the challenge of building something new every day and as one panelist said “women – welcome back to manufacturing.”
What is your proudest career moment?
I worked on 1.5 million dollar grant that was awarded by OJJDP to Pioneer Human Services and JJRA to run a pilot AJAC Manufacturing Academy project to reach 75 incarcerated students in 2014 and give them tools and job skills before they were released from prison. 51% of the students that completed or graduated the program went on to get entry level jobs in the industry.
What is your favorite part about working in the non-profit industry?
I am able to collaborate with passionate people in the industry. I enjoy working with all types of people and thrive on the diversity everybody brings to the table. I have a heart for helping people get to the next level with their career or journey in life. I believe everybody deserves a second chance. I am passionate about today’s youth and mentoring them in the directions that they are passionate about.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love adventure of any kind, my biggest passion is kayaking and being on the water. In the summer, Ross Lake in the North Cascades is my favorite local destination. I was a kayak guide, naturalist, and fishing guide up in Southeast Alaska and enjoyed kayaking around humpback whales, seals, bears and glaciers with tourist during the summer.
If you could bring one musician back from the dead, who would it be and why?
Johnny Cash, because I have always wanted to see him live with June Carter. He was an innovator, even later in life he collaborated with many artist and made amazing music. I loved that he began performing concerts at prisons starting in the late 1950s. The Folsom State Prison Concert he performed, was a significant and historical performance that brought light on the prison population and was one of his best albums in my book.
If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?
Poached Halibut with a spring herb sauce or Smoked Salmon glazed with a brown sugar and cracked pepper. Literally these are the only two things I know how to make. Other than that I am helpless in the kitchen.
Meet the rest of AJAC’s team here.
Join us for this forum and networking event introducing women to career and training opportunities in the exciting and dynamic field of advanced manufacturing. Hear from a panel of women working in the field and learn about the industries, employment and potential career pathways. Get expert advice on navigating college, career resources and apprenticeships.
Panelists include: Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC), South Seattle College, General Plastics, and Orion Industries.
We will also introduce the partnership between the YWCA and AJAC for an all-female Manufacturing Academy cohort beginning October 17th!
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