Apprentices help fill need for workers
Workers get to learn on the job; employers get people trained exactly as they like
To help address the issue, the state created the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee in 2008, the same year a state study on work-force deficiencies was published.
Everybody had been hollering (about the upcoming shortage of aerospace workers) across the industry, said Laura Hopkins, who leads the apprenticeship program.
There arent enough airframe and powerplant mechanics in the state, Hopkins said.
Hopkins, who holds an A&P rating with the FAA, notes that many students who enroll in A&P programs have to put their lives on hold for two years.
Through the state program, apprentices learn the trade by working full-time for an aerospace company while taking coursework, paid for by the state. Apprentice mechanics earn a lower wage, of course, than experienced workers. Employers get to train the apprentices their way and, with luck, end up with long-term employees.
We have a huge wait list for apprentices, Hopkins said.
Unfortunately, the downturn in the economy has made it difficult for Hopkins to line up aerospace companies willing to take on even lower-paid workers like apprentices.
The economy has been our biggest hurdle, Hopkins said.
Many aerospace companies also wrongly assume the apprenticeship program is just for organized shops, given that the Machinists union was the driving force behind starting the program.
Hopkins other problem is finding enough companies in the same location to participate, allowing for coordination of course instruction from one of the community colleges. About 37 employers want to participate, but only Everetts Aviation Technical Services has apprentices enrolled in the program.
We believe in growing our own mechanics, said Linda Armstrong, ATS human resources manager.
AJAC screens potential apprentices for employers, putting candidates through basic skills tests to determine aptitude. After the screening, the committee sent 65 apprentice applications to ATS. Of the 17 who began the program last year, 14 remain.
An apprenticeship is made up of about 93 percent on-the-job training and 7 percent college coursework, Hopkins said.
At the end of the day, we end up with an FAA-certified mechanic that is trained our way, said Dave Bowen, who leads training for ATS. They get all the FAA training that a student would get from a certified program like the one at Everett Community College, he said.
ATS has about 1,500 employees in Everett.
Apprentices wages generally start at 50 percent to 60 percent of a journey-level workers pay. After 1,000 hours on the job, the apprentice is eligible for a pay raise. An apprenticeship should take two to four years to complete, Hopkins said.
Meanwhile, theyre getting their education with salary and benefits, Armstrong said.
Hopkins believes military veterans are good candidates for aerospace apprenticeships. Veterans are disciplined and tend to have the mechanical inclination needed for aerospace work, she said. The committee also wants to create a more robust program for involving high school students.
But Hopkins and the state program still have to wait for aerospace companies to start hiring.
All of the employers know theyve got this issue (of not having enough aviation mechanics), she said.
Hopkins is trying to find funding for paid internships. The joint apprenticeship program would pay for two months of salary for a would-be worker. The employer would just have to train the person. Hopkins believes an employer would be likely to hire the intern at the end of the two months if the person showed promise and demonstrated he or she was a good employee.
The employer gets to test it out without having to pay a workers salary, she said. Its a win-win for everybody.
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