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Teens try their hand at manufacturing trades

Three-week workshop lets high schoolers explore careers

Sparks flew as the chop saw cut a piece of metal in the Spokane Community College machine shop Monday, fascinating and frightening a group of teens in the Manufacturing Technology Workshop.

“It’s sort of scary, all the things that can go wrong,” said 17-year-old Alex Daley.

Welding and fabrication instructor Brad Hein added, “Metal working is dangerous, and if you’re jumpy, it’s probably not the field for you.”

The three-week, 6  1/2-hour-a-day workshop is designed to attract young people into manufacturing-oriented trades, considered a high-demand career field nationally.

As baby boomers prepare to retire from hands-on jobs, more manufacturing-oriented workers are needed. The people working in this area have waned over the years because they have been tending toward more analytical jobs, work force experts say.

Through the workshop, nearly 20 high schoolers get hands-on training in welding, machining and computerized drafting equipment. They tour different manufacturing companies in the area and receive half a high school credit through Spokane Skills Center, said Mary Harnetiaux, a spokeswoman for Community Colleges of Spokane.

The program aims to help students who think they’re interested in manufacturing careers make that decision before graduating from high school.

“I thought I wanted to go into engineering,” said Central Valley senior Hannah Robb, who was clad in blue mechanic coveralls. “But now I think I want to do industrial design.”

The program was first conceived by Greater Spokane Incorporated’s manufacturing roundtable as a way to address the shortage of skilled workers in the field. This is its second year at Spokane Community College.

Classes started last week. The students spent the first three days in computer-aided drafting designing a cell-phone holder. This week, they were cutting metal pieces using a band saw and an iron working shear, in addition to the chop saw.

“It’s hard to learn, but if you have the patience, you can be good at it,” said Daley, 17.

The teen said his first career choice is snowboarding professionally. But if that doesn’t work out, he’s considering underwater welding.