Pilot program aims to train students for manufacturing jobs

A teacher shows a student how to use a tool during a class demonstration.

Edmonds College joined the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) this week to showcase a three-year pilot program aimed at training students for manufacturing jobs.

Edmonds College is the only West Coast college – out of 25 community colleges – that was selected to participate in the program – the Manufacturing Imperative – Workforce Pipeline Challenge (MI-WPC). The nonprofit SME launched the program last fall with support from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC). It aims to train more than 75,000 people nationwide for manufacturing jobs, and this workforce growth would have an economic impact of about $6 billion.

Edmonds College and SME hosted a press conference at the Advanced Manufacturing Skills Center (AMSC) and Washington Aerospace Training and Research (WATR) Center on Wednesday at Paine Field that provided a look at the classrooms, workshops and student projects. 

Edmonds College President Dr. Amit Singh speaks at the press conference.

“Our job is to add value to our stakeholders and industry partners, and the value we add is based on their needs and how they define it, not us,” said Edmonds College President Dr. Amit Singh. “It’s an exciting opportunity to be part of the 25 colleges and to partner with various industries in this region.” 

SME Director of Government and Workforce Partnerships Dr. Deb Volzer said that she and her team examined which states were investing in the manufacturing industry and various industry sectors, such as semiconductors, electric vehicles and aerospace. 

“It’s kind of like spaghetti thrown at the wall, we said let’s limit this to 25 institutions to test this out,” said Volzer. “It’s a tough decision. There’s 1,200-plus community colleges, and we whittled (it) down to say, ‘Who are the best partners to have very diverse expertise and industry interests in those regions and how can we bring them together?’”

Volzer said that there are about 8 million people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 24 who do not have a pathway to postsecondary education to gain the skills needed to get jobs with living wages. 

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ Dr. Deb Volzer said about 8 million people in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 24 do not have a pathway to postsecondary education to acquire skills needed for living-wage jobs.

“Ages 18 to 24 are critical; that’s our next talent workforce,” she said. “So how do we attract them back?” By partnering with community colleges, SME is trying to reach about 35 million Americans who intend to get additional education and training but are sitting on the fence about such job programs.

To do that, Volzer said that SME and the participating colleges first need to understand the population of a community and the manufacturing industry and figure out if there are any disconnections. This can help their industry partners hire and attract talent that represents specific demographics, such as ethnicity and race, gender and age groups. 

“[We want to] make sure they (industry partners) have a voice at the table because they are the ones who are driving innovation,” Volzer said. 

Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center Executive Director Larry Cluphf added that many of the manufacturing programs have a higher percentage of women than typical STEM college programs, and credited that to the work of Edmonds College marketing representatives Jim Werth and Karen Magarelli. 

Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center Executive Director Larry Cluphf led the group inside the back half of the 767 fuselage that was donated by Boeing.
Larry Cluphf explained that some manufacturing students use their skills to create their personal projects, such as snowboards, skateboards or drones.

“The other thing we have is an image problem,” Cluphf said. “When you think about industry and manufacturing, a lot of people see it as a kind of a dirty job. Our job is to educate them and show them that manufacturing is clean, that it’s for everybody. These are great-paying jobs and there’s no reason that a person can’t get into this and earn a wonderful living. Let them see themselves doing these kinds of jobs.”

Cluphf said that in 12 weeks, people can start with zero knowledge and skills about the job and end up working in the industry. “We can take somebody from being a barista to be a mechanic or electrical assembler. We have a high standard. We make sure that when the students come here, they have to be here on time with a badge, they have to treat each other with respect and interact appropriately within the facility. You can be fired from the WATR Center.”

Manufacturing students can learn how to use various drills at the Washington Aerospace and Training and Research Center.

Cluphf said that about 55% of graduates work for Boeing, which had increased its workforce by 11% in 2023, or 6,553 jobs. He added that about 1,000 students were employed by more than 150 aerospace suppliers in Washington state. Students need to pass with an 80% score on their tests or they will not earn a certificate. Starting pay can vary among companies and is based on the candidate’s education.

“We just had a person (who) got hired for $22 an hour,” Cluphf said. “When [the employers] found out that they went to the WATR program and the training they received, they bumped them to $26.” Entry-level wages can range between $20 to $30 per hour.

In addition to the technical skills, the WATR Center offers an English as a Second Language (ESL) course for non-native English speakers. Banks are invited to teach students how to manage personal finances and a student service coordinator shows students how to write a resume and answer interview questions.

Dr. Amit Singh and Dr. Deb Volzer visit the workshop where manufacturing students learn the trade.
These 400-pound granite tables are almost perfectly level – down to 0.001 millimeters from corner to corner – for calibration of airplane parts and tools.

During the first year of the program, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers is touring all 25 institutions, with Edmonds College being the 12th location. A national report will be compiled after the tour in May and published next January. Volzer said that each school has its own strategic plan, and each plan is combined into a national goal.

“Our country is trying to reshore manufacturing [jobs]. COVID kind of exacerbated the issues that we had and pointed out to us that manufacturing is key to our economic health as a country and national security,” Volzer said. If nothing is done, he added,  2.7 million jobs would go unfilled by 2030, representing a “$4 trillion impact” to the U.S. economy.

“Congratulations to Edmonds College for being chosen to participate in this and for stepping up and stepping out to make sure our nation stays competitive in the global market,” Volzer said.

Visit the Advanced Manufacturing Skills Center and WATR Center websites for more information. 

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

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