Aerospace education key to retaining industry in Washington, Dorn says

Washington needs to redouble its efforts to train the next generation of aerospace workers, said a panel of educators and human resources professionals Wednesday at Pierce County’s Third Annual Aerospace Summit.

Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said the need for technically proficient workers has increased many times in the last several decades.

In 1950, for instance, 60 percent of students finishing high school could expect to be hired in a living wage job. In more recent times only 20 percent could expect a similar career trajectory, he said.

Now, 65 percent of young people entering the workforce will need an advanced vocational training while 23 percent will need a college degree, he said. That college degree requirement is up three percent since 2000.

Washington has established 14 skill centers statewide to provide that technical training, and even more effort is needed, he said.

Such an accelerated effort both to provide a basic education and specialized skills won’t be inexpensive, said Dorn. The next legislative session is expected to address the question of providing full educational funding that recent court decisions have mandated, he said. He called on business, which will ultimately benefit from having a better educated workforce, to put its weight behind the effort to provide better funding for Washington education.

The Evergreen State, he said, ranks 47th in class size and 42nd in per pupil funding of education. Even so, he said, the state ranks 17th in its students’ educational achievements, a fact, he said, that indicates the relative efficiency of the state’s education system.

Eric Hahn, vice president of organizational development at General Plastics Manufacturing, told the aerospace gathering that only two of 10 job applicants the company tests for seventh grade math skills are able to pass that test.

That result is an indicator that more focused training is needed for youth headed into manufacturing jobs.

Hahn said the Pierce County area is fortunate to have one resource, military veterans, who are a cut above the average run of high-school educated job applicants. On that same math proficiency test, he said, six of 10 veterans pass.

Those former soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel come well equipped to do the work that General Plastics and manufacturers like it expect, he said.

They have the ability to learn on the job, to communicate with their fellow workers and they possess a loyalty to the company and their job that makes them excellent job candidates and workers, he said.

“They all deserve our consideration when we are hiring,” he said.