Commentary: Aviation jobs need skilled workers trained here

ATS and others are hiring again; workers with skills learned in high school and college have a head start.

By Seth Jacobsen / For The Herald

Last year was challenging across the aerospace sector to say the least. We certainly experienced the challenges at Aviation Technical Services (ATS). Like others across our industry, we had to confront changing demand while operating amid the pandemic’s “new normal.” What we saw out of all of it was resilience.

Just a quarter of the way into 2021, with hopefully the worst of the pandemic behind us, we are seeing an increase in demand for manufacturing and related support industries. Our workload is nearing pre-pandemic levels and we are hiring.

That bears repeating: We are hiring. We are excited to see other companies similarly positioned.

One of our biggest challenges is the pool of available certified aircraft mechanics. This challenge is only going to grow as an increasing share of the state’s aerospace and manufacturing workforce becomes eligible to retire.

Aerospace companies in Washington need talented workers. We need more students graduating high school or completing postsecondary programs with the mechanical aptitudes necessary to enter and succeed in industry.

That’s where Core Plus Aerospace’s high school manufacturing curriculum and partnerships with community and technical colleges come into play. These programs help companies like ours grow a local workforce, and in turn support local communities.

To help with this challenge, ATS created its own on-site apprenticeship program where it welcomes new apprentice mechanics, some straight out of high school. The apprentice role is a full time, paid position, complete with great benefits, a 401(k) package and more. Many enrollees received a head start thanks to the Core Plus Aerospace program at high schools and regional skill centers.

Developed here in Washington and backed by local industry, the Core Plus Aerospace curriculum delivers a foundation of real-world technical skills. Graduates leave high school with options, ready to immediately pursue work, apprenticeships, or college.

Sno-Isle TECH Skills Center in Everett is consistently one of our best sources for apprentice candidates. Sno-Isle offers the Core Plus Aerospace curriculum to juniors and seniors from high schools in Snohomish and Island counties. Along with developing basic mechanical aptitudes, students learn skills that all employers seek; like communication, critical thinking and teamwork.

Take a look at just one former Sno-Isle student I know. In September 2019, ATS hired Aaron, a recent Sno-Isle graduate who had minimal work experience and no direct work experience in aviation. But Aaron clearly had the foundational manufacturing, communication and teamwork skills needed to succeed at ATS; all thanks to what he learned at Sno-Isle TECH.

Aaron completed our apprenticeship program two months ahead of schedule, being promoted to Mechanic after only 16 months. His wage is 16 percent higher than when he started, and he has opportunity for even more career growth. A key component of our program allows all graduates to continue working at ATS, typically with the same crew and leaders.

ATS is also fortunate to have community and technical colleges like Everett Community College in our own backyard. The Core Plus Aerospace high school program and aerospace manufacturing education at the community college level combine to offer a clear runway to rewarding jobs, apprenticeships and postsecondary credentials.

Currently, ATS has positions open for aircraft mechanics, entry-level apprentice mechanics and quality control inspectors. These needs will only increase in the future. We also anticipate growing needs in leadership roles. Today’s apprentices will be positioned to take those leadership roles down the road.

More effort and support are needed from both state and local leaders to grow manufacturing education and prepare local students for the job opportunities ahead. Our industry is resilient. It will continue to support Washington families. And we are ready to hire.

Seth Jacobsen is a senior manager for apprenticeship and career development at Aviation Technical Services, a provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services in Everett.

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