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

The strip-mall site (bottom) where Trent Development hopes to build 350 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2020 in Lynnwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Hundreds more apartments planned around Lynnwood light rail

In a new proposal, a developer envisions 350 units, two buildings of at least seven stories, a one-acre courtyard and a dog spa.

Our readers have voted on a few of their favorite things in Snohomish County. (Getty Images)
The best in Snohomish County, chosen by you

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

Weatherstripping is installed Thursday afternoon at Pallet in Everett on January 21, 2020. (Kevin Clark/The Herald)
Everett-based Pallet offers a novel way to shelter homeless

The manufacturer’s small, temporary homes have helped hundreds of people get off the streets around Puget Sound.

A Boeing 777X airplane flies over Moscow, Idaho. during a test flight Tuesday, June 23, 2020. The new model of airplane had its first flight on Jan. 25, 2020, from Paine Field in Everett, Wash. The 777X will be the world's largest and most efficient twin-engine jet, according to Boeing. (Geoff Crimmins/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)
Tax break proposed for manufacturers, but it needs a sponsor

Port of Everett CEO Lisa Lefeber hopes to boost manufacturing across the state with a new incentive.

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2019 file photo Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, looks on as Suzi LeVine, right, the state's Employment Security Department Commissioner, talks to reporters at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The state of Washington is calling in the National Guard to help process unemployment benefit claims as officials grapple with a backlog caused in part by a fraud ring that stole more than half a billion dollars in aid, officials said Thursday, June 11, 2020. LeVine said that Gov. Jay Inslee approved the deployment of troops who will start assisting her team next week as it tries to reduce the unemployment claim backlog.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren,File)
Head of state employment agency to join Biden administration

Suzi LeVine’s departure is effective Feb. 1. A deputy, Cami Feek, will serve as acting commissioner.

FILE- In this Sept. 30, 202, file photo, a Boeing 737 Max jet, piloted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson, prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle.  (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
European aviation agency: 737 Max to be cleared next week

The review of the aircraft “began with the MCAS but went far beyond.”

Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX, poses with a production electric engine, the magni500, at the  company's new office on Seaway Boulevard on Monday, Jan. 18, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Electric aircraft developer magniX moves HQ to Everett

The company builds electric motors, and it’s teaming with Arlington’s Eviation to launch a fully electric plane.

Matt and Jill Wurst opened Audacity Brewing in December 2020 and are now managing to stay open, with the COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, at their brewery on 10th Street on Monday, Jan. 11, 2020 in Snohomish, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
It took some Audacity to open this new Snohomish brewery

The COVID-19 pandemic hit just as Matt and Jill Wurst were getting the business off the ground.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 file photo, workers stand near a Boeing 737 Max airplane parked at Renton Municipal Airport next to the Boeing assembly facility in Renton, Wash., where 737 Max airplanes are made. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, the company reported final 2020 numbers for airplane orders and deliveries, and they are down from 2019 even though the 737 Max is flying again. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Canada OKs return of Boeing 737 Max aircraft

The planes will be permitted to fly as long as they meet specific safety conditions.

Most Read