Paine Field aerospace training center to grow

EVERETT — The aerospace training center at Paine Field will soon be able to accommodate up to 300 students, thanks to an expansion project set to be completed this summer.

“We’re basically outgrowing the building,” said Larry Cluphf, director of the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center.

Although the center opened less than three years ago, it already has undergone several improvements to expand aerospace training capacity in Everett. But the success of the program and the demand for aerospace workers has the center’s managers looking for extra space.

The center, which offers 12-week training certificates, has capacity for about 180 students monthly, Cluphf said. The training center holds two shifts of classes and has the ability to offer a third shift and weekend classes. Students initially participate in online classes before attending courses in-person at the center in Everett.

The expansion, which is scheduled to wrap up by June 30, would allow the center to teach as many as 300 students in a month. Cluphf, the center’s director, is mindful to keep the number of graduates on par with openings in the local aerospace industry. At the moment, Cluphf wouldn’t put through 300 students monthly because hiring is expected to be slower early in 2013, picking up by summer.

“We don’t want the graduates sitting around in applicant pools and not using their skills,” he said.

The Boeing Co. and the state’s aerospace industry expect to lose nearly half of their employees to retirement over the next five to 10 years, creating an opportunity for the center’s graduates, who complete certificates in manufacturing or electrical assembly, quality assurance or aerospace tooling. The industry also has seen higher jet production rates, putting further pressure on aerospace employment.

The 2012 Legislature awarded Edmonds Community College, which oversees training at the center, the funds for the most recent $1.5 million expansion. The Aerospace Futures Alliance, an industry interest group, and Snohomish County founded the center in June 2010.

At this year’s legislative session, AFA is seeking $10 million to establish the Central Puget Aerospace Training Center at Renton Municipal Airport. The group already conducts training in Renton. But Linda Lanham, AFA’s executive director, said that space is too small. The new center also would allow the organization to conduct science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, training with elementary and high school students.

Altogether, 1,400 students have graduated from the Renton and Everett training sites since 2010. Of those, 1,000 have applied for jobs within the aerospace industry, and 767 graduates have been placed in jobs so far, Cluphf said.

In January, the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center was named a finalist for the National Bellwether Award, which is sponsored by the University of Florida Institute of Higher Education. The annual award is handed out to community colleges that address future workforce or training gaps. This is the second time the center has been a finalist for the award.

Herald reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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