Roger Kwan works as an engineering manager at Fluke Plastics in Everett. He’s been in the manufacturing field for 10 years and in this role for four. His interest was sparked early.
“In 7th grade wood shop, the teacher had us hand-draw projects from all different sides and do an isometric projection. Designing, then going and building it fascinated me and really drew me in.” Now he manages a team of 14 people who support the factories that build the products.
Nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will be needed in the U.S. by 2025, and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers, according to a recent study by Deloitte. More applicants with credentials are needed to fill these promising jobs here in Washington.
Manufacturers account for 12.4 percent of Washington’s total output, employing 8.8 percent of the nonfarm workforce. Total output from manufacturing was $58.43 billion in 2016, with 286,300 manufacturing employees. According to the Center for Manufacturing Research, the average annual compensation for manufacturing employees was $87,818 in 2016. In King County, you can make between $50,000 and $60,000 die-cutting and soldering. But how do you get these jobs, and what education credentials are required?
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Tools of the trade
Jenée Myers Twitchell, impact director at the nonprofit Washington STEM, created the Labor Market and Credential Data Dashboard, an online tool that shows the regional wage and required credentials for family-sustaining STEM jobs. Search by credential, years of experience (including none), occupation group or title, wage range and Washington county or state.
For example, an industrial engineer can expect to earn $109,021 per year, and 553 job openings are anticipated per year through 2021. A bachelor’s degree is recommended. A machinist can expect to make $52,597 per year, and 1,116 job openings, including fabrication technicians and specialized pipefitters, are expected annually. An apprenticeship is needed. The tool also links to job descriptions and national data from O Net – 34 percent of machinists have a high school diploma, and 50 percent have a post-secondary certificate, for example. This information empowers students to take the next step toward their career.
The right stuff
People who like working with their hands and understanding how things work are a good fit for manufacturing jobs. They should also be interested in computer or machinery electronics. Kwan looks for people who have a bias towards action. “We try to create an environment where you can experiment and even fail, as long as you learn from it.”
He encourages students to tour a manufacturing site. “Getting an inside look at how products are made can help people visualize what it is they want to do.”
“The biggest needs are in machine-tool technology,” says Twitchell, “a cool hybrid of hands-on computer programming and understanding how supply lines work and how particular pieces are made.” Local employers include MacDonald Miller, Siemens, McKinstry and Boeing.
Navigating a career path
Most of the 740,000 job openings estimated by 2021 will be filled by workers with postsecondary credentials, such as a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree, an industry certificate or an apprenticeship. Manufacturing credentials in this region include paid Seattle Machinist Apprenticeships, a 9-month South Seattle College (Georgetown Campus) Manufacturing/Machinist Technology Certificate, and a 2-year Associate of Applied Arts & Sciences degree from Shoreline College, which can be earned online.
Community colleges can offer a direct pipeline to a career. Lake Washington Tech and Renton Tech have deep relationships with employers. “[Students] are placed right away because employers really trust that program,” Twitchell says. “In 18 months or less, a student can get placed on the line at a Boeing plant.”
Innovative programs, such as Core Plus, that are available in Washington high schools and skills centers also can give students a head start. Core Plus is a two-year, standardized manufacturing curriculum that is recognized by industry and prepares high school students through hands-on learning. The first year focuses on foundational courses common to all manufacturing industries (such as shop safety and materials science). The second year includes industry-specific courses, currently in aerospace with additional maritime and construction courses in development. Depending on their school district, students can use their Core Plus classes to satisfy math, science, English, career and technical education (CTE), and/or elective credit requirements for graduation.
“At the end of the day, the education opens the door for you, but it’s what you do that gets you through the door. You have to use the schooling to get those internships to go and DO something before you get into your career job because all of those experiences make you better at doing what you do,” Kwan says.
“Internships are the most pivotal part of helping ensure you get a job,” says Alyssa Cerelli, a buyer/planner for Fluke. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science from Western Washington University and interned at Boeing and B/E Aerospace.
Cerelli discovered supply chain management in her business operations classes, and now purchases the parts that go into Fluke’s infrared cameras. “It’s fun to be directly tied to manufacturing,” she says. “If your parts aren’t here, they can’t build or ship to customers. You have a direct impact on revenue.” She recommends going to career fairs. “The earlier you start researching companies, the greater shot that you’ll be able to get a job.”
Partnership for Learning, the education foundation of the Washington Roundtable, brings together business leaders and education partners to improve our state’s education system, so Washington students are ready to pursue the career pathways of their choice. Learn more at partnership4learning.org/credentialessential.