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High school students explore jobs in flight

In week two of Spokane Community College’s Summer Aerospace Workshop at Felts Field, Zach Merkling, left, and Brandon Wong learn how to rivet together two pieces of aluminum on Monday. (Colin Mulvany)
In week two of Spokane Community College’s Summer Aerospace Workshop at Felts Field, Zach Merkling, left, and Brandon Wong learn how to rivet together two pieces of aluminum on Monday. (Colin Mulvany)

Need a career, kids? Consider the aerospace industry.

Spokane educators and industry leaders created a three-week aerospace workshop that gives area high school students a taste of careers in aviation maintenance, flight operations and air traffic control with the hope of piquing their interest in an industry where jobs are in demand and on the rise.

The inaugural workshop is in its second week at Spokane Community College’s Felts Field facility – one of five air frame and power plant schools in Washington where students earn a two-year certificate to work on anything from a small aircraft to a commercial airliner.

Hannah Jones, 17, is one of 25 Inland Northwest high school students enrolled in the workshop. The Spokane Valley High School student said she wanted to find an interesting career.“I never knew there were openings in this field. This has been great,” Jones said.

The students have had the opportunity to fly a plane and spend time in Spokane International Airport’s air traffic control tower. This week, they are learning to work with the materials used to build a plane. Next week the students will learn to work on airplane engines.

“I want to be a pilot in the Air Force, and this is about aviation,” said Amber Arbanas, 17, a Ferris High School student. “It’s good for me to learn about airplanes, how they are made and how they are put together.”

About 80 aerospace-related businesses operate in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, and workshop planners hope to raise awareness of the job opportunities available in the region, college spokeswoman Mary Harnetiaux said.

“We’re in the process of taking on more aerospace work, and probably will be hiring six to eight more people before the end of the year,” said Ken Logan, president of L & M Precision Fabrication in Airway Heights. “The business is continuing to grow. We are coming off two slow years, but we’re getting back to where we were.”

The prospects go beyond the local area.

“As of midway through the year, we’ve hired 2,000 so far in the Puget Sound area, and by the end of the year it should be between 4,000 and 5,000,” said Doug Alder, a Boeing Co. spokesman.

Although it varies by product line, “basically they are all increasing in (airplane) production rates,” he added.

Boeing just released a market outlook for the next 20 years that anticipates a need for 33,000 new planes – mainly commercial passenger airplanes and some freighters. The company hopes to get the bulk of those orders.

“We couldn’t be happier with something like that (the workshop),” Alder said. “… One of the biggest challenges we face is getting skilled workers hired. If people are looking for a job, the aviation industry is certainly a good place to look.”

Mead High School student Brandon Wong, 15, was obviously intrigued. “I thought it would be really cool to know how to fly and fix a plane,” Wong said.

The team that put the workshop together included representatives from Community Colleges of Spokane workforce development, Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane Public Schools Skills Center, the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Community and the Federal Aviation Administration with the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium provided additional support.

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