Students inspect an engine during class at Everett Community College’s Aviation Maintenance Technician School. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Students inspect an engine during class at Everett Community College’s Aviation Maintenance Technician School. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Study: A smarter workforce is needed to win Boeing 797

To remain an aerospace powerhouse, Washington needs to boost its investment in education.

EVERETT — If Washington wants to retain its standing as an aerospace powerhouse, it should consider boosting investment in K-12 education, technical programs and colleges and universities throughout the state, according to a new report from the Choose Washington New Middle-Market Airplane Council.

The council, an alliance of elected officials and business and union leaders, hopes to convince Chicago-based Boeing Co. to build its next passenger airplane model in Washington.

The latest report, “Aerospace Workforce Development; Strategy and Recommendations,” offers a score of suggestions to increase the number of aerospace workers through education and training opportunities.

The council is sharing the report with private and public leaders for consideration during the upcoming legislative session.

Boeing’s so-called middle-market airplane, informally dubbed the 797, would fit somewhere between the largest 737 and the smallest 787, filling a niche left by the discontinuation of the Renton-built 757. The Boeing board of directors has not yet given the project the go-ahead, but state leaders continue to push their case for building it in Washington.

Analysts expect Boeing to make a decision this year or next, according to the council.

The aerospace giant hasn’t indicated what criteria it might use to determine if and where to build the new plane, but ever since the company located a 787 assembly line in South Carolina, leaders here have been nervous about losing out.

While the state can boast “the largest concentration of experienced aerospace and advanced manufacturing workers in the world — competition for this talent is fierce,” the report says. Washington also faces “looming retirement and gaps in the supply of workers,” factors that could affect the state’s standing in the eyes of Boeing.

“Washington’s continued leadership in aerospace — and many other sectors — depends on having the top skills and talent available to meet current and future employer needs,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a prepared statement.

“Collaborative strategies, such as those outlined by the NMA Council, alongside investments in career-connected education and training programs, will enable every Washingtonian to participate fully in the economy and every Washington company to compete successfully around the world,” Inslee said.

The report follows a separate, independent aerospace study, which the council released in June.

That study, the “Aerospace Competitiveness Economics Study,” measured key factors such as electricity costs, deep-water ports and private investment in research and development — all of which received high marks from the author, Richard Aboulafia, one of the world’s best-known aerospace industry analysts. His firm, the Teal Group, prepared the independent study.

The Aboulafia report found that Washington was the most competitive state by a healthy margin for aerospace development, followed by Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas and Colorado.

However, it pointed to two areas in which the state could improve: infrastructure, roads and more roads, and education.

Aboulafia told state leaders that those issues are easy to address.

As part of an apparent response to the education issue, the council assembled 25 education, labor, business and political leaders, many with Snohomish County ties, to review K-12 instruction, apprenticeship programs, worker training and college and university aerospace programs.

Participants included David Beyer, president of Everett Community College; Dana Riley Black, executive director of STEM programs at Everett Public Schools; and Mary Kaye Bredeson, executive director of the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, housed at Everett Community College.

Beyer co-led the study with Chelsea Orvella, legislative director for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).

Beyer called the report “a comprehensive effort” aimed at informing private and political leaders of the need to improve the pipeline for aerospace and skilled workers.

Improving the education sector so that it continues to “thrive and grow and be inclusive” is key, Beyer said, “not only for entry-level workers and young people who come through the pipeline but also existing workers … to make sure their skills are up-to-date.”

Among the report’s recommendations:

• Expand and inspire greater interest in aerospace careers at the K-12 level through industry tours, company classroom visits and support of Core Plus, a two-year curriculum that prepares high school students for college and entry-level manufacturing jobs.

• Modernize and increase student enrollment at aerospace community and technical college programs and upgrade the equipment students train on. (A state grant recently allowed Everett Community College to add a second shift at its Aviation Maintenance Technician School, doubling enrollment.)

• Increase apprenticeship opportunities through greater access to on-the-job training for students throughout the state, especially in aerospace.

• Expand research and development and four-year degree programs at universities around the state.

• Help existing aerospace workers acquire additional skills through continuing education and training programs.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

Washington’s aerospace supercluster

• 136,100 skilled aerospace workers.

• 714 commercial aircraft produced in 2017.

• Aerospace engineers per 1,000 jobs: Washington, 2.8; Alabama, 2.3; Kansas, 1.7; Maryland, 1.2; U.S. average, 0.5.

Source: Choose Washington New Mid-Market Airplane Council

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