Washington’s first youth apprentices graduate

The state is expanding the program to create more registered apprenticeships for 16-and 17-year-olds

Apprentice Sean Colyer, center, talks April 13 to Gov. Jay Inslee and Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee Executive Director Lynn Strickland during a visit to American Structures & Design in Pacific. (Office of the Governor photo)

Last April, 17 high school students became the first to participate in Washington’s registered Youth Apprenticeship program.

One year later, the program to help high school students develop career-ready skills in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries has its first two graduates: Tacoma residents Seth Hamilton and Sean Colyer.

They will continue at American Structures & Design in Pacific as adult apprentices. Both grads of the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee youth program say the opportunity to start their job training in high school gave them a head start on earning a journey-level certification and on a good-paying career.

Each youth apprentice can expect to earn a minimum of $25,000 in compensation by the time they complete the program. They also earn two high school credits, a recognized journey-level credential as a production technician and 15 college credits from one of six participating community or technical colleges in Washington.

“I wasn’t going to go to college. I didn’t want to do student loans,” said 19-year-old Seth. “Scholarships are around, but they’re not always easy to get and they don’t cover everything. The fact that I’m getting paid to take college courses … it’s pretty cool.”

Youth apprentices work 10–20 hours per week during the school year and full-time during the summer. In the program’s first year, 11 employers have brought youth apprentices into their shops. Registered youth apprentices in Washington have received a combined 10,000 hours of on-the-job training and 2,500 hours of college-level classroom instruction.

At least 36 prospective employers are interviewing youth apprentices to hire for the next school year, many of them planning to hire more than one. Up to 75 youth apprentices are expected to enroll for the 2018–19 school year, and at least four new school districts plan to join the program for the 2019–20 school year.

Seth was a senior at Lincoln High School in Tacoma when he learned about the program in his welding class and jumped at the opportunity. His work at American Structures & Design was paired with weekly AJAC classes to learn more about machining, metallurgy and other advanced manufacturing skills.

Apprentice Seth Hamilton works April 13 at American Structures & Design in Pacific during a visit to the shop by Gov. Jay Inslee. Hamilton is one of the first two graduates of the registered Youth Apprenticeship program through the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee. (Office of the Governor photo)

American Structures & Design designs and manufactures aluminum and stainless products for the building industry, including metal balconies, railings, sunshades and cables.

Through the apprenticeship, “I get a huge variety of stuff that I get to do in the warehouse,” Seth said, including machining and assembling parts and working in shipping and receiving.

His favorite part of the job, however, is CNC machining — short for computer numerical control. CNC machines are programmed to cut a number of manufacturing parts.

“It keeps the job interesting,” Seth said. “I didn’t realize how much stuff was actually manufactured here in the U.S. or even in this area. The Puget Sound is a manufacturing epicenter. … Once I get the experience, I have a job basically anywhere around here.”

Seth encouraged other high school students with an interest in shop or mechanics to consider applying for AJAC.

“If you’ve got a little bit of experience with it, and you like it, you can start making money right away and kick-start your life rather than wait around for 10 years not knowing what to do,” Seth said. “There should be less people doing that around here.”

That’s the problem Gov. Jay Inslee’s Career Connect Washington initiative aims to solve. The initiative has a five-year goal of connecting 100,000 young people with employer internships, registered apprenticeships and other learning opportunities to prepare them for the thousands of high-demand job opportunities in the state.

The average journey-level machinist in Washington makes about $24.81 an hour. In Seattle, that wage is closer to $26 an hour. Washingtonians employed in the manufacturing sector earn an average wage of roughly $85,000 a year, where many jobs do not require a four-year degree.

Seth and Sean are finishing ahead of their AJAC peers because they began in the program shortly before turning 18 and graduating from high school. Once they finished high school, they had more hours to dedicate to completing the program.

Both young men said they take a lot of pride in their work.

At apartment complexes, for example, Sean, also 19-years-old and a Lincoln grad, said he has stepped out onto a balcony or deck and spotted the products he helps make.

“It’s cool to see how everything goes together,” he said. “Right now I’m drilling joist — that’s the part that connects the sub-fascia to the fascia — and it’s really cool to see I’m a part of what someone’s going to be standing on in an apartment.”

For the employers who hire youth apprentices, the AJAC program is a reliable way to find workers committed to the trade.

“It fills the need for the pipeline for manufacturers,” said Mark Weissenbuehler, president of American Structures & Design. “Personally, I can’t wait to get in here every morning and see what these kids are doing and how they’re helping us grow.”

Janie Vigil, human resources director for Cadence Aerospace PMW Operations in Tacoma, said her company has been participating in apprenticeship programs for decades and was excited to be one of the first employers to get involved in the Youth Apprenticeship program.

The machining services company that employs about 180 people and makes hard-metal machined parts for the aerospace industry has two youth apprentices.

“It’s difficult for employers to find qualified, experienced machinists in an upswing in the market with low employment rates,” Vigil said. “We have always taking the position that we grow our own. … We see the program as a great benefit.”