School credit, job training and a paycheck?

New aerospace apprenticeship program puts high school students on a career fast track

High school sophomore Sam Yost arrives at Stadium High School in Tacoma early every morning for his zero-hour jazz band class at 6:30 a.m. But when most students are wrapping up their school day at 2:05 p.m., he still has another four hours to go.

You won’t hear Yost complain about it, though. In fact, Yost said he hopes more students choose to take part in the state’s new registered youth apprenticeship program that he says is giving him valuable job training — and a paycheck.

Yost was one of 15 youths being celebrated as the first class of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) youth program. The program combines traditional classroom learning with 2,000 hours of paid, on-the-job apprenticeship training at an AJAC-employer and college-level instruction that high school students can use toward their diploma, journey-level card and a college certificate.

For Yost, that means working four hours after school at Quality Stamping and Machining in Sumner, where in just the first month he’s learned how to use design software to draw parts for planes such as Boeing’s 777.

The goal of the program is to help more high school students develop career-ready skills in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries. At the end of their 2,000 hours, they each will have earned about $28,000.

“I have no doubt this technical and work experience will open doors for me,” Yost told the large group of business, government and education leaders gathered at Pacific Machine in Lakewood on Thursday. “This is an unprecedented opportunity for high school students.”

Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee youth program participant Sam Yost speaks Thursday at Pacific Machine in Lakewood. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Lynn Strickland, the executive director of AJAC, gets excited when she talks about the potential of the registered youth apprenticeship program to avoid what she calls the 10- to 15-year career “drift” that happens for the majority of young people who choose not to go to college, or end up not completing their degree.

Strickland said the average age of a community or technical college student is 29, and the average age of an AJAC apprentice is 33. Enrolling students in a registered youth apprenticeship program while they’re still in high school helps build a direct pipeline of skilled workers into good-paying jobs. She joked that this helps parents, too.

“We are able to get students on a career path earlier… and we can make sure they aren’t a boomerang and coming back around and landing on your couch,” she said.

Gov. Jay Inslee also spoke at the signing celebration and called the AJAC youth program the “gold standard” in career-connected learning for young students.

“There is no better way to give a student a vision for their future than to get them in an apprenticeship program,” Inslee said. “We are leading the country in aerospace. We are leading the country in computer science. And now we are leading the country in apprenticeships.”

Jim Tschimperle, owner of Pacific Machine, agrees.

“This is a huge step forward for students, manufacturing companies and the general public to provide a skilled workforce and help students who don’t want to go to a four-year college (with) a lifetime opportunity to work in advanced manufacturing.”

The youth program is part of a larger AJAC apprenticeship program created by the Legislature about 10 years ago that helps connect about 400 apprentices and employers a year.

Plans are underway to expand the youth program to 10 sites across the state with a goal of serving more than 1,000 students by 2020.

Inslee’s most recent budget proposal would invest $6 million in such career-connected learning programs, which are designed for students who want to enter the workforce or enter job training directly after high school. The money would support grants for middle and high schools to adopt career-connected learning curricula and train teachers.

Schools would partner with colleges and universities, businesses and local groups to organize worksite visits, mentorships, internships and apprenticeships for students. The grants would be matched by the private sector.

Gov. Jay Inslee shakes hands Thursday with participants of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee youth program at Pacific Machine in Lakewood. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)