By John Wolcott SCBJ Freelance Writer
EVERETT — 2012 may hold one of the best opportunities in decades to find long-term work in Snohomish County’s aerospace industry.
Not only are all four of Boeing’s Everett-built airliners selling well, the company also is ramping up production rates on some models.
That means the roughly 650 aerospace suppliers throughout Washington state will be hiring to keep up with Boeing, including nearly 200 suppliers in Snohomish County.
Consider the recent news:
• Boeing has orders for more than 800 of its 787 Dreamliners;
• Dubai’s Emirates airline ordered 50 Boeing 777s in November worth $18 billion;
• A week later, Jakarta’s Lion Air ordered 201 new 737 MAXes valued at $21 billion;
• In early 2011, Boeing won a heated contest with Airbus for 179 aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force based on Boeing 767 aircraft;
• Boeing’s venerable 747 is finding new markets as the upgraded 747-8 in freighter and passenger derivatives.
On Boeing’s Renton assembly line, home of the 737 for four decades, workers and suppliers each month build 35 of the company’s most-popular plane. The newest variations are the 737 NG (Next Generation) while the 737 MAX is being engineered with new engines.
With Boeing’s pledge to build the 737 MAX in Renton under a four-year contract extension with the Machinists union, more aerospace job opportunities will be created for years to come.
Consider, too, that Boeing is forecasting North American airlines will need at least 7,500 new aircraft and the Middle East is expected to need more than 2,500 new airliners by 2030. Boeing expects to be a strong competitor in those and other world markets.
Despite a struggling worldwide economy, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Co. hired more than 11,000 new employees in 2011. Most of them work in the Everett plant assembling the 747-8, 777, 787, 767 and its Air Force tanker derivative, the KC-47A.
Hiring will continue in the coming years as thousands of Boeing’s engineers, machinists and other skilled workers reach retirement age.
Aviation manufacturing has always faced cyclical market swings, but the present uptick in aircraft sales signals a strong cycle that should mean high industry employment for many years for Boeing and its European competitor, Airbus.
While Boeing is hiring workers for mechanical and structural systems, software engineering, finance and supply management, Boeing suppliers are hiring machinists, aircraft structure and rigging assemblers, computer-controlled tool operators, aircraft mechanics, electronics technicians and advanced materials specialists.
A $20 million grant the U.S. Department of Labor awarded to the Air Washington Consortium to support workforce development highlights the importance of training programs to fill aerospace industry jobs in Washington.
Also, Washington state recently announced a new $9.8 million plan to increase training for aerospace workers to maintain a highly qualified workforce in the state.
County aerospace job training expands
In Snohomish County, there are numerous training programs for aerospace roles, with new ones being announced regularly as demand for more aerospace workers increases.
The key to much of the current success in aerospace skill training is a consortium known as Air Washington. Members include 12 community and technical colleges, two aerospace technology centers, the Center of Excellence, the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee and 14 regional Workforce Development Councils.
The grant was designed to develop state-of-the-art workforce education and training programs in five aerospace skill areas: advanced manufacturing, aircraft assembly, composites, electronics and airframe-powerplant.
Everett Community College is developing other programs.
John Bonner, executive director of the college’s Corporate &Continuing Education Center near the Everett Boeing plant, oversees programs that provide career training, professional development and small-business acceleration classes.
EvCC’s center is also one of the largest providers of contract employee training for aerospace in Washington, currently engaged with about a dozen companies. Individuals and employers use CCEC resources for continuing-education programs and certificates in a variety of subjects for the aerospace industry.
“Our continuing-education center offers short-term programs to fill some of the gaps in skills in the aviation industry,” Bonner said. “Our electronic troubleshooting program operates with Boeing’s help to fill important needs for them, and other aerospace industry suppliers also need those skills.”
The aerospace industry has an increasing need for machine operators and the college provides certificate training in that area. Many graduates return for more training in particular fields.
The CCEC has developed several short-term training sessions that lead to employment in areas of high demand. Certificates include electronics and troubleshooting (11 weeks), machine operator (13 weeks), blueprint reading (two weeks), shop math (three weeks), and wire and cable harness assembly (four weeks, coming in winter 2012).
“EvCC has the only aviation technical school north of Seattle for people who want to earn an FAA license as an airframe and powerplant mechanic,” Bonner said. The college’s Aviation Maintenance and Technology School has room for 100 students and it’s full, but he says the college hopes to add an evening session to serve another 25 students.
“I have never seen this level of almost frantic pace (of training and growing job needs) in Snohomish County,” Bonner said. “We see a lot of people who are very focused. It’s an exciting and challenging times for the aerospace industry, with a lot of opportunities.”
EvCC also hosts the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Materials Manufacturing, which serves as the statewide liaison between business, industry, labor and education to create a highly skilled workforce.
Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center
A major step in accelerating training programs for aerospace industry jobs began in 2010 when the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center opened at Paine Field for concentrated aerospace training courses.
Working with the Aerospace Futures Alliance of Washington, a trade association for the state’s aircraft makers, Edmonds Community College created an industry-driven program responsive to those companies’ needs for young, highly skilled workers. So far, 424 students have passed the course, a 90 percent graduation rate, and more than 75 percent have found jobs with Boeing or other aerospace companies.
On the university front, aerospace firms are clamoring for engineers.
“One of the biggest issues is training more engineers for aerospace jobs at the University of Washington,” said Sue Ambler, CEO of the Workforce Development Council for Snohomish County. “We’re hoping the next session of the Legislature will put more money into college and university programs for up to 500 more (student) spots. An engineering degree costs about $5,000 more than a liberal arts degree and that’s a real barrier without more help.”
She said the council is working with community colleges and will work with Washington State University when it begins providing pre-engineering courses at EvCC’s University Center.
Another top priority, she said, is to help the unemployed, particularly veterans, get aerospace job training.
Melanie Jordan, president of Aviation Liaison Services Inc., is active in a variety of aerospace groups, including the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance that focuses on helping promote the region’s aerospace industry.
“As an organization, PNAA is heartened by the fact that these institutions and organizations here and throughout the state are working together to create programs that benefit both our workforce and the aerospace industry,” she said. “Their efforts help ensure that our Pacific Northwest aerospace cluster will remain strong and globally competitive now and well into the future.”
Get training help
For information on aerospace training programs in Snohomish County and Washington state, go to:
• Everett Community College: www.everettcc.edu
• Edmonds Community College: www.edcc.edu
• Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center: www.washingtonaerospace.com
• Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee: www.ajactraining.org