Instructor Rick Smith (right) helps student Daniel Pedlar with a drill press at the Washington Aerospace Training & Research Center at Paine Field in Everett on Dec. 16. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Declining unemployment rate makes it hard to find good workers

EVERETT — Daniel Pedlar’s alarm goes off every weekday at 4:20 a.m.

The 20-year-old rolls out of bed, throws on his clothes — usually jeans and a T-shirt, grabs a bite to eat, heads out the door and gets into his car. It’s a short drive at that time of day from his mother’s house in Bothell to Paine Field.

He usually pulls into the Washington Aerospace Training &Research Center’s parking lot around 5 a.m. His aerospace tooling class doesn’t start for another 30 minutes. He doesn’t want to risk being late.

Before starting the 12-week certificate program, Pedlar had worked at McDonald’s since high school. “I didn’t see myself there” long term, he said. “I want to get my own house and start my own life.”

A friend suggested he go after a job at Boeing. Pedlar said he never paid much attention to the aerospace giant, but he has always enjoyed working with his hands and Boeing pays well. So, he enrolled at WATR.

“I wasn’t really thinking about any other careers,” he said.

WATR typically has about 50 students in certificate programs. Most of them already work in aerospace, many at Boeing’s Everett plant less than a mile north, said Larry Cluphf, who runs the center, which is part of Edmonds Community College.

That is a marked change from just a few years ago when the center regularly had about 75 students, few of whom had experience in advanced manufacturing, he said.

That does not surprise Anneliese Vance-Sherman, an economist who tracks the labor market from King to Whatcom counties for the state’s Employment Security Department.

Across Washington, the number of people looking for work is the lowest it’s been since July 2008, about the time the Great Recession hit the region, data show.

In an economic downturn, people often flock to training programs to wait out the storm and make themselves more marketable. When the economy heats up, people go back to work, she said.

Urban areas are leading the recovery. November’s unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in King County and 4.2 percent in Snohomish County. Those numbers are not seasonally adjusted and are preliminary, meaning they might be tweaked as more accurate data is collected.

The recession devastated the construction industry, which lost about one in three jobs. Now, it is among the fastest growing industries in the Everett area. Snohomish County added 1,900 specialty contractor jobs — such as drywallers, carpenters and electricians — since November 2015.

Services, information technology and health care are growing fast as well.

Manufacturing jobs in King and Snohomish counties have declined as companies make more use of robots, automated machines and other labor-saving technologies. Boeing also has reduced its workforce over the past year.

Regardless, it is a good time to go into aerospace and other advanced manufacturing, Cluphf said.

Baby boomers make up a huge portion of shop floor workers here, and are quickly approaching retirement age. WATR and other job training centers expect a big hiring wave in manufacturing over the next 10 years, he said.

State-supported training programs have added enrollment spaces in recent years, but it might not be enough to meet employers’ needs.

Already employers have trouble finding skilled workers, said Erin Monroe, chief executive officer of Workforce Snohomish, which works with public agencies, private companies and job seekers.

“Almost every employer I talk to tells me they are looking” for reliable people with the knowledge to do the job, she said.

Having good employees makes all the difference, said Binh Mach, who owns R.B. Enterprises, one of the area’s many machine shops.

“It doesn’t matter how high-tech your machines are if you don’t have skilled people to maximize” their value, he said. “If you don’t have that, you can’t compete with lower wage” employers outside the region.

He said he has high turnover among new hires. His shop has about 30 workers overall.

Engineers in aerospace are having a tougher time finding work.

Five years ago was a great time to be an engineer here, said Eric Lundeen, an executive at Waypoint Aeronautical, an aerospace engineering firm based at Paine Field.

Back then, Boeing and several major suppliers were ramping up new programs. Now, most of that work has moved into production, so companies have cut engineers in recent years, he said.

Several contract engineers said the local job market is thin these days, prompting them to look out of state for work.

“Now would be a great time to be hiring” engineers, he said.

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

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