When AJAC launched in 2008, our organization was tasked with building comprehensive apprenticeship pathways for Washington State manufacturers. In our first 10 years, AJAC largely partnered with over 100 aerospace employers in Western Washington with a focus on occupations specific to that sub-industry. Today, AJAC’s footprint is statewide, serving diverse employers across multiple manufacturing sub-sectors—all major drivers of our economy.
As a major new initiative funded by Career Connect Washington, in 2019 AJAC partnered with both Workforce Development Councils in central Washington to grow our capacity for serving food and beverage manufacturing. Through community partnerships and employer engagement, this initiative resulted in the diversification of relevant apprenticeship programs that meets the needs of regional employers who produce a variety of products such as beef, apples, hops, and seafood.
From ranch to table, Washington Beef is the largest exporter of high-grade beef in the state. As a whole, Washington State’s beef industry contributes $5.96 billion to the local economy while creating over 150,000 jobs from the Kent Valley to Yakima Valley.
In 2019, Washington Beef became AJAC’s largest employer after enrolling 21 adults in AJAC’s four-year Industrial Maintenance Technician apprenticeship program. Washington Beef’s automated equipment and fleet of vehicles required their maintenance technicians to have a diverse skill set enabling them to solve a variety of complex tasks.
Becoming an apprenticeship provider was more than growing the maintenance department’s robust set of skills, it allowed their employees to find a career pathway to greener pastures. “The AJAC program has enabled us to partner our employees with the outside resources needed to progress their skills,” said Craig Smith, Washington Beef’s Director of Facilities and Environmental Compliance. “Because we’re a small company, Washington Beef is not staffed to have a full blown training liaison which really created a gap for skill and personal assistance. The type of industry we’re in, the available resource pool is very competitive.”
Adopting AJAC’s apprenticeship allowed Washington Beef to restructure and reorganize their maintenance department to where they can put in silos of competency and create a hierarchy within the organization—making an industrial maintenance technician the sought after role. The result? It has leveled the playing field for the younger generation, for individuals that are willing to come in and pursue scholastic advancement as well as a skill advancement using advanced technologies and processes.
“The greatest benefit of apprenticeship is it positions us for future technologies, and now we no longer fear those technologies. We embrace that and want to show ownership in that, and AJAC has allowed us to do that. I love it,” Smith said.
Washington Beef’s nearly two dozen industrial maintenance technicians are expected to graduate in 2023, after completing their 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 600 hours of college-level classroom instruction. In addition to their maintenance program, Washington Beef is also considering adopting two new AJAC programs—Automation Technician (Youth Apprenticeship) and Machine Operator to diversify their talent pipelines.
These offerings will allow Washington Beef to remain competitive, increase their knowledge of technology, meet their company’s goal of retaining talent, and advance their maintenance technicians to become journey-level apprentices.