A recent article in the Seattle Times asserts that "the era of high-wage, blue-collar jobs" in airplane manufacturing and timber is gone, but organizers of Thursday's STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Expo made possible by the Enumclaw School District in partnership with the Enumclaw Schools Foundation (ESF), aren't so quick to generalize.
Cathy Fallen-Mathews, an ESF board member and president of Pacific Metallurgical, Inc., in Kent, agrees that the common perception of manufacturing is changing, but that's a good thing.
"The vision of the local black-smith working out of his garage has changed into a high-tech, sophisticated, well-educated worker," she said in an email to Patch. "Manufacturers have modernized the industry by embracing new technologies and by being involved in management, as well as product research and development."
Pacific Metallurgical specializes in heat treatment of a variety of metals and serves an array of industries including aerospace, automobile and even medicine. "The aerospace industry has been very innovative in creating new high-strength, light-weight materials," Fallen-Mathews said. "Those materials require innovative technologies and tools to design, machine, harden, or form. Quality assurance has also been a large driver for raising the image of manufacturing by implementing procedures that ensure a quality product is supplied to the airplane maker."
Because of these advances, business owners these days are looking for employees who understand that the basic science or math behind a manufacturing process is an integral part of quality production, she said.
"A background in STEM skills allows for a common sense foundation from which to make informed decisions on the shop floor," she said.
'High-Paying' Still Possible
The aforementioned Seattle Times article examined the decline in the number of state students completing a college education and cited Mary Jean Ryan, executive director for the Community Center for Education Results, in alluding to the growing need for workers with more specialized skills, particularly STEM skills.
The article doesn't explicitly say whether the skills should be acquired in a traditional university or perhaps on-the-job. Fallen-Mathews believes there's room for both. "I disagree that high-wage jobs in manufacturing are gone," she said. "Most machine shops provide apprenticeships and have developed internal
training programs for those employees motivated to learn. Both the high-school graduate with the right skills and the college engineering graduate can earn a family sustainable wage as an employee in the manufacturing industry."
Plan Early for STEM Career
The school district has made several recent advancements in promoting STEM education, said Corey Cassell, vice president of the Enumclaw School Board, particularly at the middle school level with the addition of the Project Lead the Way curriculum at Thunder Mountain and Enumclaw middle schools.
At the high school, educators continue to focus attention in the areas of Careers in Technical Education (CTE) classes that teach hands-on application of STEM skills, he said.
"We are also building programs at our high school that would support students in receiving specialized certifications," said schools Superintendent Mike Nelson.
Nelson recently shared his insights with Patch on the numbers of local students continuing to college. Regardless of which post-graduation route a student takes, "we believe a good public school system will build strong strands in both areas."
Fallen-Mathews agrees and urges students as young as those in middle school to start thinking about their post-high school plans, learn about their options and what they need to do, starting now. "College bound or not, learning job skills before graduation will allow students to have a plan," she said. "It will give them opportunities to explore different careers and find something they enjoy that will inspire them to choose a career pathway and create a plan for their future. That plan could eventually pay their way through college, if need be."
A Community Opportunity
To bring that point home, Fallen-Mathews, under ESF, has invited at least 18 area businesses to the first event of its kind in Enumclaw Thursday to promote awareness of STEM for both students and their families.
The list of businesses was growing but at last check a week ago, companies including Boeing, CimTech, DeVol Engineering, DMC SideCars, Helac, Hill Aerosystems, Museum of Flight, Pacific Metallurgical and St. Elizabeth Hospital were on board to present to the community what they do and what skills they look for in hiring new employees or working with new apprentices.
The Expo is free and open to the public from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Enumclaw High School commons area. Visitors are encouraged to speak with the various company representatives to learn about various STEM applications or just have some fun playing with a terrestrial rover from the Museum of Flight. A mobile training unit from Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) will be utilized by students during the day and then open for public tours beginning at 2:45 p.m.
"The hope is they [students] will develop an enthusiasm for the variety of processes that are part of manufacturing a product and develop the work ethic and the skills to perform those jobs," said Fallen-Mathews. "Establishing a partnership between industry and schools is key to educating a skilled workforce."
Cassell continued, "These partnerships will be crucial as we educate the next generation of entrepenuers and professionals who will pilot our economy into the future."
Confirmed Expo Exhibitors
AJAC, Boeing, Breedt Production Tooling Design, CimTech, DeVol Engineering, DMC SideCars, Green River Community College and GRCC Aerospace, Helac, Hill Aerosystems, MetalTest, Museum of Flight, Nether Industries, Orion, Pacific Metallurgical, Skills, Inc., St. Elizabeth Hospital, Quality On Time Machining and Skynet.
Enumclaw High School's Aerospace Manufacturing, Automotive Tech, CAD/CTE, Glass Works and Robotics Club will also be in attendance.