By M.L. Dehm For The Herald Business Journal
The Work Force Development Center in Mukilteo has become the only nonprofit in the state to be awarded Safety Through Achieving Recognition Together status by Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.
It’s a well-earned honor for the organization that trains at-risk and disadvantaged high school students in assembly, machining and manufacturing processes to work in aerospace and other industries.
The center’s executive director, David Trader, hopes the award will bring greater recognition to the aerospace-focused job program.
“We want to get our name out there and let people know we’re here,” Trader said. “We’ve been doing this for 23 years now.”
Basically what the center does is to train students to manufacture and assemble real parts that are then sold back to aerospace companies. The teenagers served by this program live mainly in Snohomish County or just beyond. They are students with a significant barrier to success. Most have a diagnosed disability. Some have other risk factors such as homelessness or poverty. Some are English language learners on top of a diagnosed disability. Others are single parents struggling to finish school and train for a career.
Teenagers must be in school and working towards their diploma to be considered for the program.
“Our first goal is to get them to graduate …” Trader said. “They have to be working towards their diploma to be in the program. We treat them like employees. This is not a school. They get paid a wage. They get that real-life work experience.”
The center also connects them with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and Worksource so they understand what services there are to support them after graduation.
“And they leave here with a resume in their hand,” said Work Force Development Center’s director of Student Services Carmela Morelli.
The center also tries to eliminate basic needs issues that might get in the way of the teens being successful. Because many of the teens are poor or homeless, there is a shower onsite and a closet of clothes if they need them. There is food available for those who haven’t eaten and laundry facilities. They even try to help with transportation if that proves to be an issue.
“We’ve bought ORCA Cards for kids,” Morelli said. “We had a kid last year who had three different addresses in the course of his year here. His biggest barrier to being successful here was his attendance because he had no way to get here.”
His story isn’t unique. Attendance has been the biggest challenge for many students and a lot of those attendance problems are tied to transportation.
The program tries to remove barriers that may be holding teens back. It then holds them accountable and helps them to develop and maintain those work ethics required for employment in a desirable industry.
The program has helped many students over the last 23 years. Some now are employed at the center teaching and mentoring others. Some have gone on to college. Most have gone on to good careers in the aerospace industry.
Hundreds of pictures of center alumni hang on the walls to inspire current students and let them know they can achieve success. It encourages them to believe in themselves.
Retired NFL player and former Seattle Seahawk Alonzo Mitz believes in the kids and in the program. That’s why he has been a generous supporter of the nonprofit and a key celebrity at the Work Force Development Center’s Annual Charity Golf Tournament.
“This program allows them to believe in themselves,” Mitz said. “These kids are basically not going to get an opportunity like this anywhere else. Where they go from here could be endless.”
The celebrity golf tournament is one way that the center has been able to raise awareness for the program in the area. As a nonprofit, they can use any kind of funding or support that individuals or businesses can offer.
Obviously, the center would appreciate more customers for their work. The Boeing Community Manufacturing Program is the way the program got started. But they don’t just work with Boeing to manufacture parts. They work with 26 different customers.
Last year, 148 students requested an interview for only 70 available spots in the program. The center staff wish it could accommodate more. But the only way the program can expand is to increase the number of business customers it serves so more student employees can be hired. They work with 26 customers now.
Even if companies aren’t able to place orders for the products manufactured by the Work Force Development Center, there are other ways they can help.
Opportunities for employment, invitations to tour businesses, and equipment, tool and vehicle donations are all greatly appreciated.
Lesser, though not less appreciated, donations include school supplies, clothes and other basics.
The center also appreciates personal involvement from local companies. Volunteers willing to sit on interview panels and sponsors for the annual golf tournament are welcomed.
Trader said what would give the Work Force Development Center staff the most joy are invitations for their graduates to come out for a job fair or an interview.
“We’re trying to have our students recognized so that they have some opportunities out there after they leave us,” Trader said.He knows employers would be pleased to meet these potential employees who have fought with such great determination to create a future.
The center has certifications and accreditations including ISO:9001/2008-AS9100C certification – a quality management standard used in the aerospace supply chain to assure product excellence and uniformity.