Murray told of progress in aerospace training and education

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

EVERETT — How does a state, or a community like Snohomish County, ensure it has enough qualified workers to sustain a growing industry like aerospace?

•You increase the number of engineers being educated locally.

You devise short and two-year training programs at local community colleges.

And you steer hundreds of skilled paper-mill workers who are losing their jobs toward careers in aerospace.

Those are some of the efforts local educators and workforce trainers highlighted Wednesday in a meeting with U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“We want aerospace to be the base; we’ll work to protect it, but we want to grow and diversify from there,” said Troy McClelland, executive director with Economic Alliance Snohomish County.

That means McClelland’s group will support legislative efforts to increase education and training dollars.

One such effort that aerospace and education leaders will be watching: a proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire to increase the number of engineers the state’s universities educate each year. The price tag is $7.6 million.

If passed, Washington State University, which already plans to begin a mechanical engineering program in Everett this fall, ultimately would add 60 engineering students in Everett, said Paul Pitre, special assistant to the president of academic affairs. Under Gregoire’s proposal, WSU and the University of Washington would add more than 400 engineering students each at various campuses across the state.

Already, Everett Community College and Edmonds Community College have undergraduate students who could transition into the WSU engineering program in Everett, said David Beyer, president of Everett Community College.

But the industry doesn’t need just engineers. There’s also demand for skilled workers. Sue Ambler, president of Workforce Development Council Snohomish County, works with both community colleges to place the county’s jobless in training programs, using funding from a variety of sources.

That includes the 300 to 400 residents of the county who will lose their jobs when the Kimberly-Clark paper mill in Everett closes by the end of March.

“They have skills and they know it,” Ambler said.

Ambler’s organization and WorkSource have organized workshops for Kimberly-Clark workers. Some of those workshops are on how to apply for jobs at the Boeing Co.

“I feel very positive about their skills,” Ambler said. She noted that some Kimberly-Clark workers may need short-term training, like that offered at the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center in Everett, to familiarize them with the aerospace industry.