Lawmakers: K-12, Post-Secondary Role Key To Lift For Washington Manufacturing

Lawmakers: K-12, Post-Secondary Role Key To Lift For Washington Manufacturing
Everett Community College's Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center allows students to experiment with hands-on projects which help to prepare them for work in advanced manufacturing. Image: Everett Community College.

Manufacturing employers in Washington and nationally are at a tricky juncture. Although new opportunities for growth such as carbon fiber product development are gaining traction, experts estimate millions of manufacturing jobs could be unfilled by 2025. Also apparent is a need to improve workers’ skills. Washington lawmakers say that strengthening ties between the state’s public education system and workplaces is critical.

A 2015 Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute report estimated 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will be required nationally, over the next decade. Only 1.4 million of those positions are expected to be filled, leaving some 2 million manufacturing work slots open.

Of the 450 manufacturing executives surveyed, 315 reported “shortages of workers with adequate technology, computer and technical training skills.” The majority of the cohort said that “developing their workforces,” including internal employee training and development programs, would be most effective in addressing the problem.

Boeing’s ‘Core-Plus’ Program

One local success story is the Boeing Core Plus Program, which teaches students aerospace industry skills and also fulfills high school graduation requirements. At least fifteen skill centers and high schools in the state have implemented the two-year curriculum.

State Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1) said Washington’s academic system does not do an adequate job directing students into vocational training paths at community or technical colleges. Palumbo is ranking minority member on the Senate Higher Education Committee.

K-12’s Key Role 

“We’ve got aging out of the aerospace workforce in the next 10 years, and we don’t have the pipeline of workers to go into the manufacturing fields,” said Palumbo. “It’s a big problem to solve and it goes from grammar school, to counselors, to high school opportunities for training certificates and industry credentials. You can get a credential and get a good-wage job in manufacturing.”

Added Palumbo, “We need to change the funding formulas to make sure vocational schools get better funding…do things like educating school counselors about what career paths are available” and offer “professional development with them to get kids on that path.” The schools “need to have specialized training equipment which is expensive, and not funded by the state.”

A ‘Gem’ In Everett

A “gem example” of a local manufacturing effort is the Advanced Manufacturing Training and Education Center at Everett Community College, according to Palumbo, which “ties into the cluster with aerospace.” The center facilitates student projects including unmanned aerial vehicles, a 24-foot rocket, and a model Mars land-rover.

The state will have a number of manufacturing job opportunities over the next 20 years, according to Palumbo. On the horizon is rebuilding the maritime fishing fleet. Also on the rise will be carbon manufacturing, with production of Boeing’s 777x planes, Palumbo added.

Developments In Carbon Fiber Raise The Bar

Developments in carbon fiber set the stage for the opening of Port Angeles’ Composite Recycling Technology Center (CRTC). It was dubbed “the world’s first facility to develop carbon fiber composite scrap materials into products that can be used in the automotive, energy and recreational industries,” the Peninsula Daily News reported.

Palumbo said, “Now we have an ecosystem of taking scraps off the 777x or car manufacturing to recycle it and make it available to use in other things. It’s a great future with carbon fiber manufacturing, but if we don’t have workers to work that technology, then we won’t be very enticing for other companies to move their operations here.”

Other advanced manufacturing opportunities include production tied to the space exploration programs of Kent-based Blue Origin, and the joint venture carbon fiber production site of BMW Group and SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, in Moses Lake.

Tacoma Training Program Shows The Way

State Sen. Steve Conway (D-29), member of the Commerce and Labor Committee, said “There are a lot of great jobs that don’t require four-year education and allow people to make a family wage…We need to help high schools understand the pathway to those jobs could be shipping, construction; (or) could be other industries that are good employers in the state. To me, that’s the challenge,” said Conway.

Conway pointed to the Tacoma Skills Center’s Aerospace Composite Technician program. It “is designed to prepare students to fabricate, assemble and repair composite materials on aircraft,” according to its course description.

Public-Private Pipeline Improvements

In the Wall Street Journal, Andy Kessler suggested last month that President-elect Donald Trump consider building support for a “GI Bill of 2017” to help develop the advanced skills that manufacturers and other employers increasingly need.

Kessler said such legislation could be designed so that, “if you’re unemployed, you get a voucher or tax credit for education…These programs would be online only, drastically lowering costs…why not let private companies – think IBM, Ford, Pfizer, Amazon – come up with online curriculum that they would hire from?…The Trump administration has promised to spend billions on infrastructure, but that doesn’t provide new skills, and it takes forever to find the shovels. Online education for retraining skills can start tomorrow morning, and for relatively cheap,” said Kessler.

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