Tacoma Celebrates First High School Apprentices During National Signing Day

All eyes were on Pacific Machine last week as the city of Tacoma ushered in a new era of career-connected learning. The decade-old mindset of ‘every student should attend a four-year college’ was stopped in its tracks during the official kickoff of Youth Apprentice Signing Day for the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee’s (AJAC) Production Technician program.

Raquel Taijito, Seth Hamilton and Aleksandr Gergalo are all smiles after signing their Youth Apprenticeship Agreements. 

Youth Apprentice Signing Day was more than a signature on the dotted line. It symbolized partnerships between local and post-secondary institutions, government leaders, and AJAC of whom developed a pipeline of talent into the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries. Parents and families were relieved their children will have a steady job throughout high school, paying on average $28,000 and fast-tracking their career at an unprecedented age.

Over the last year, AJAC, Bates Technical College, Tacoma Public Schools, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, and the Governor’s Office have worked endlessly to implement our state’s first youth apprenticeship program for high school students interested in the trades. The end result is a 2,000 hour paid Production Technician program which encompasses 15 tuition-free college credits, two high school credits, an OSHA-10 certification, and limitless mentorship from industry professionals.

Nearly all 14 youth, granted it was their spring break, were on-hand to sign their apprenticeship agreements with their employers and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.

Prior to the signing agreement, four speakers including Pacific Machine’s owner, Jim Tschimperle, current AJAC machining apprentice Travis Foster, AJAC Executive Director Lynn Strickland, and Program Manager of L&I Jody Robbins, each discussed their organization’s contribution to youth apprenticeship.

Governor Jay Inslee delivered the keynote speech to over 130 guests which emphasizing the key strategy Washington State has to grow youth employment and other career opportunities for all students. “This is the gold standard, because there is no better way to give a student a vision statement of their future than to get them into an apprenticeship…it’s the gold standard because we know we have thousands of jobs we need to fill in advanced manufacturing because our state is leading the world [in advanced manufacturing],” Governor Inslee said in his opening remarks.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee delivering his keynote address to the audience at Pacific Machine in Lakewood, Washington. 

Too often we hear about the lack of opportunities for youth employment in our community.  This is contributing to the ‘decade drift’ as young adults struggle to find a meaningful career path well into their early thirties.  Delayed entry into the labor market comes with serious repercussions for Washington’s youth including the decline of individual income, lifetime earning potential, and long-term employability for a generation of workers.

Coinciding with the ‘decade drift’ is the role education plays in developing the next generation of workers. Currently, after you receive an education, then you find employment. Apprenticeships, particularly AJAC’s model, is comprehensive. AJAC requires apprentices to find employment first, then simultaneously receive their on-the-job training and college-level classroom instruction. The self-confidence of AJAC’s youth apprentices earned the trust of the employers, with minimal previous work experience.

John Page, CTE Director of Tacoma Public Schools provides his closing remarks.

John Page, CTE Director of the Tacoma Public Schools closed the signing day ceremony with a few words that touched home, “You don’t sign on for a placement. A placement would be an internship. Apprenticeship, you have to have the grit, the self-confidence, and level of skills to convince a potential employer to invest in you.” This sentiment extends beyond the workplace and calls on the families, parents, the apprenticeship community and our local educational institutions to sustain these programs for future generations to come. Youth apprenticeship will provide a greater opportunity for student retention by demonstrating the relevance of school-based learning and real world application.

View photos from the event on AJAC’s Flickr page

Aaron Ferrell, April 10, 2017


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