Boeing public image plays a big role in interest in aerospace training

EVERETT — Four years on, Washington’s showcase effort to train aerospace workers is quietly feeding the industry new talent and helping the under-skilled get family-wage manufacturing jobs.

David Han signed up for a course at the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center (WATR) at Paine Field after 10 years in customer service. The Lynnwood resident knew he didn’t want to sit behind a desk, and, with a young daughter, he needed a career to support his family.

He has two weeks left in the three month course, and like most WATR students, Han, 32, is focused on landing at the Boeing Co., which assembles wide-body jetliners just north of the school.

“They don’t want to just grab anyone off the street. If you have something like the WATR program behind you, it is a lot easier to get your foot in the door,” Han said as he took a break from drilling two steel plates together.

“As you’re drilling, the plates need to be perfectly aligned or you can get burrs in between the plates,” Han explained. “That’s not good.”

Machinists assembling metal-skin jetliners drill thousands of rivet holes. The slightest mistakes on the assembly line can lead to costly — and, in the worst case, deadly — consequences later on if they are not corrected.

Han isn’t alone in looking to Boeing for work.

“That’s the goal,” said Mike Stein.

The 24-year-old moved from San Jose, California, to enroll at WATR and — hopefully — get a job at Boeing.

He will look at other aerospace manufacturing companies after he finishes the WATR course later this month, but, he said, he is not familiar with any other businesses.

“Boeing is the best-known company,” Stein said.

With more than 80,000 employees in Washington, the Chicago-based company does make up the bulk of the state’s aerospace workforce, which was about 94,000 in 2012, according to a 2013 report commissioned by the Washington Aerospace Partnership.

About 38,000 had jobs related to aerospace, according to the report.

So many students are focused on Boeing, school administrators said, that public perception of the company’s fortunes affect enrollment at WATR, which offers courses at Paine Field and in Renton.

Interest in courses dropped after Boeing announced in July 2013 that it would lay off about 800 machinists.

“We got over that scare, and what happens?” said Larry Cluphf, WATR’s director. “We get into the 777X scare, and everyone thinks Boeing is moving out of the state.”

That, of course, was never the case. The company considered basing final assembly of the new 777X jetliner in other states. However, plenty of elected lawmakers — including members of Congress and the governor — spread the perception that the aerospace giant was already packed to pull out of Washington.

Enrollment declined at WATR, but it has risen in the first half of this year, especially after Boeing announced that final assembly and wing fabrication for the 777X will be at the company’s Everett plant, Cluphf said.

Monthly enrollment numbers were not immediately available. But demand for low-interest tuition loans from the state reflects the enrollment trend, he said.

During the previous school year, for example, the state approved 185 loans out of 372 applications from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013.

However, during the next five months, the state only got 36 applications and approved 16 loans.

Demand has increased since. As of June 9, the state has received 100 applications and approved 56 awards since last July.

The boost is a combination of growing enrollment and reduced requirements for the Aerospace Loan Program.

In March, the state lowered some of the loan requirements and made application materials easier to find online.

“The website was difficult to navigate,” said Raphael Madison, WATR’s head of sales and marketing.

Changes included easing criteria regarding an applicant’s criminal background, credit score and financial need. The language used in the online materials were also softened to be less intimidating, said Rachelle Sharpe, an administrator with the Washington Student Achievement Council, which oversees the loan program.

Even with the changes, the program is on track to use a small fraction of the $1.25 million allocated by the Legislature. The average award is $4,800. At that rate, the 56 loans granted this year would add up to $268,800.

Han received one of the loans. His wife filled out the application and told him it was easy, he said.

Applicants are overwhelmingly men without children and live in Snohomish and King counties. More than 40 percent are 18 to 25 years old, and about 65 percent are younger than 35, according to state data.

Since opening in June 2010, more than 2,100 students have finished WATR programs. Most — about 57 percent — do end up at Boeing, Cluphf said.

According to state data, nearly 80 percent of graduates who applied for work after finishing a WATR program had been hired.

WATR invites recruiters from aerospace companies to meet students, Madison said.

Some students have little experience with looking for a serious job, he said. During one session with a recruiter, “one student raised his hand, started talking about his drug history and asked if that was a problem.”

The school has hired more counselors to work with students on filling out applications, navigating interviews, writing resumes and other job-hunting skills.

“We continue to work with any student who goes through the program until they find a job,” he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Homes in The Point subdivision border the construction of the Go East Corp. landfill on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mudslide briefly stalls housing project at former Everett landfill

The slide buried two excavators in September. Work has resumed to make room for nearly 100 new houses.

Ameé Quiriconi, Snohomish author, podcaster and entrepreneur.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Snohomish author’s handbook charts a course for female entrepreneurs

She’s invented sustainable concrete, run award-winning wedding venues and worked in business… Continue reading

FILE - In this June 12, 2017, file photo, a Boeing 787 airplane being built for Norwegian Air Shuttle is shown at Boeing Co.'s assembly facility, in Everett, Wash. Boeing is dealing with a new production problem involving its 787 jet, in which inspections have found flaws in the way that sections of the rear of the plane were joined together. Boeing said Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, it's not an immediate safety risk but could cause the planes to age prematurely. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
FAA memo reveals more Boeing 787 manufacturing defects

The company said the problems do not present an immediate safety-of-flight issue.

A final environmental cleanup is set to begin next year at the ExxonMobil and ADC properties, neighboring the Port of Everett. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Department of Ecology.
Port of Everett to get $350K for its costs in soil clean-up

The end is finally in sight for a project to scrub petroleum from two waterfront parcels, owned by ExxonMobil and ADC.

Shawn Loring, owner of Lazy Boy Brewing, received $10,000 through Everett's federal CARES Act funding.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Everett, Snohomish breweries to open on Everett waterfront

Lazy Boy Brewing and Sound to Summit see a bright future at the port’s Waterfront Place.

A woman walks by models of Boeing Co. aircraft, including the manufacturer's new Boeing 777X, at the Dubai Air Show in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
India’s Akasa Air buys engines worth $4.5 billion for new 737 Maxs

Boeing clinched a deal at the Dubai Air Show to sell 72 of the jets for some $9 billion.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson speaks to lawmakers as Michael Stumo, holding a photo of his daughter Samya Rose Stumo, and his wife Nadia Milleron, sit behind him during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on the implementation of aviation safety reform at the US Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Samya Stumo was among those killed in a Boeing 737 Max 8 crash in 2019. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)
FAA says Boeing is appointing people lacking expertise to oversee airplane certification

The company was replacing senior FAA-authorized engineers who took early retirement during the pandemic.

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 17, 2019, file photo, Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., center, talks with Paul Njoroge, right, who lost his wife and three young children, as Michael Stumo, left, who lost his daughter, looks on before the start of a House Transportation subcommittee hearing on aviation safety, on Capitol Hill in Washington. The year since the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max has been a journey through grief, anger and determination for the families of those who died, as well as having far-reaching consequences for the aeronautics industry as it brought about the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max 8 and 9 jets, which remain out of service. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Boeing settles with Ethiopia 737 Max crash victims

The agreement allows victims’ families to pursue claims in U.S. courts instead of their home country.

Dennie Willard, a Navy veteran, became homeless in 2014 and began job training through HopeWorks at Renew Home and Decor. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Looking for his ‘last job,’ veteran found new work, new life

U.S. Navy veteran Dennis Willard, once homeless, now works for the nonprofit that helped him.

People hold signs in protest of the vaccine mandate along Airport Road next to Boeing on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Report: 11,000 Boeing workers seek vaccination exemptions

Reuters says executives are scrambling to balance a company and federal mandate with the need to retain workers.

Port of Everett CEO Lisa Lefeber points back to the new retail site at Fisherman's Harbor at Waterfront Place during a groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021 in Everett, Washington. The project will construct two new buildings to house the new Asian-inspired Fisherman Jack’s restaurant, South Fork Bakery, and three marine-related offices adjacent to the new Waterfront Place Apartments and Hotel Indigo.
 (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Port of Everett breaks ground on a new ‘restaurant row’

American-Chinese restaurant Fisherman Jack’s and South Fork Bakery are two businesses that will call the waterfront home.

A private plane taxis past the Paine Field passenger terminal on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Forecast: A quadrupling of Paine Field passengers by 2040

How should Everett’s airport handle rebounding demand? A virtual meeting is set for Tuesday to talk about a master plan.