Skills gap focus of Murray visit to Everett
EVERETT - Business leaders told U.S. Sen. Patty Murray last week that more people need to have the math and science skills to be ready to work in technical jobs.
Murray came to Everett to hear from leaders in the aerospace industry about their concerns on the ever-present national “skills gap” impacting the employment market. She’s taking their comments back to Washington, D.C., where she chairs the Senate Budget Committee. Murray has pushed for more money for job training programs.
“We’ve been talking about the skills gap for a very long time,” Murray said. “We have jobs but workers need skills.”
Schools need to start early on teaching math and science and getting kids motivated to do technical jobs, said Sue Ambler, chief executive officer of Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County. Schools need to start as early as kindergarten, she said.
The skills gap needs to shrink to keep a strong middle class working in family-wage jobs, Murray said. Snohomish County is doing all the right things to fix this, Murray said.
“I think this community knows what needs to be done,” but clearly it needs the federal government to act as a partner in reducing the skills gap by continuing to fund things like job training, Murray said.
The roundtable discussion was held at Aviation Technical Services (ATS), the largest airplane refurbishing and maintenance company in the United States. ATS CEO Matt Yerbic told Murray he has room to hire 100 more employees, but he needs more skilled workers in the labor pool.
“There is a nationwide shortage of aircraft mechanics, especially skilled and/or certificated technicians with sheet metal, avionics and systems experience,” ATS spokeswoman Nicole Allard said.
The skills gap could grow as baby boomers retire.
Half of The Boeing Co.’s machinists in Snohomish County will be reaching retirement age in the next five years, International Association of Machinists District 751 union staff member Grace Holland said. Boeing could lose more than 15,000 machinists due to retirement.
That scares Ambler.
“There’s going to be a huge gap,” Ambler said, that will resonate not only in the manufacturing sector but nursing and other technical fields. “Honestly, people will need to come from other states to help fill the employment gap.”
An estimated 65,000 people work in the manufacturing sector in Snohomish County as of December, the most recent figures available from the state Employment Security Department.
“How do we market to our community that our shop floors are not what they were 40 years ago,” Ambler said.
Schools are doing their part, Ambler said, by offering fun ways to add math and science into the curriculum through hands-on classes in robotics and mechanics.
Union members are going to schools to talk to students about the jobs that are out there. The kids don’t realize what’s available, Holland said.
Leaders told Murray programs such as the federal Workforce Investment Act, which trains workers, and college loans need to continue to be funded.
The Sno-Isle Skills Center, for example, gives teens the training that manufacturing companies want. The center trains approximately 7,800 teens a year, center director Dave Rudy said.
The state Legislature has supported the tech center, but the federal government needs to continue offering Pell Grants and Perkins Loans so students can go to college, Rudy said.
Community colleges are expanding the number of technical skills classes they offer to meet local needs. People can go to classes at their own pace to gain training while working under what’s called “stackable training.”
This is appealing to people, Murray said. “What I hear from young people is ‘I can’t go to college, I need to support my family.’”
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson is working to get Washington State University to build a four-year campus in Everett, and last year a WSU partnership created new engineering classes at Everett Community College.
The skills gap needs to be addressed in rural areas too, Damar Aerosystems CEO Charles Elder said.
Damar, located off Fryelands Boulevard in Monroe, has constant trouble finding skilled people in east Snohomish County, Elder said.
“We see a gap there in the employment base we’re drawing from,” Elder said.
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