Josh Cox, a senior at Mead High School, placed a small block of aluminum into a milling machine, secured it in a vise, and stood back as it shaved 0.05 of an inch to get it to the right size.
Slivers of aluminum flew through the air. The block will be cut with intricate designs students program into the milling machines using computer-aided drafting programs.
Cox is one of five students taking the aerospace and advanced manufacturing class through Spokane Valley Tech, a branch of the NEWTECH Skills Center. Although the Spokane Valley Tech building is still under construction, some classes are already under way.
For the aerospace and advanced manufacturing class, students attend classes at West Valley High School for most of the week. On Fridays, they meet in the Technology Building on the Spokane Community College campus to apply what they have learned.
In education, there is a lot of talk about career and technical education – what used to be called vocational education. Students learn skills to get them into an apprenticeship, an internship or a two- or four-year program in higher education.
With Spokane Valley Tech, students can take classes after their usual school day, rather than leave school for part of the day.
The project is a collaboration between Central Valley, West Valley, East Valley and Freeman school districts, but students from all over the county can take the classes. In the aerospace and advanced manufacturing class, two of the students go to Mead, two attend West Valley and one goes to University.
Cox said the drive is kind of a hassle, but he is enjoying what they are learning.
James Millican, a junior from West Valley, said he signed up for the class the minute he heard about it. The school doesn’t have a metal shop class anymore, and he feels he is gaining knowledge that will help him find a great career.
The class is small this year, but Scott Oakshott, work-site coordinator for NEWTECH, said they hope to register up to 15 next year when the school finally opens.
The class is taught by Cal Christen, a training and development specialist at Wagstaff, a manufacturing company in Spokane Valley. Christen said the demand for workers with manufacturing experience is high.
“The demand out there has been … practically everybody out here goes to work locally,” Christen said.
Robin Toth, vice president of business development at Greater Spokane Incorporated, said in five years there will be nearly 500 jobs opening in the manufacturing industry when many baby boomers retire.
“That’s just existing companies,” Toth said. As far as future business in the Spokane area, Toth said of the top 20 leads GSI has on new businesses interested in moving to the area, three of them are aerospace manufacturing companies and nine of them are advanced manufacturing.
“When companies come to us, the first thing they ask is ‘How many people do you have in the workforce?’ ” Toth said. Not only does the training these students are receiving help the workforce, she said, programs like Spokane Valley Tech are of interest to potential businesses.
“It’s part of our pitch,” she said.
For Tyler Saunders, a senior at Mead, he’s not sure if this is something he wants to do after graduation, but he is enjoying learning this new skill.
“It’s good to learn as much as you can, especially when it’s free,” he said.