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Boeing holding Washington state job fairs to recruit manufacturing workers

An automated fiber placement machine lays down carbon fiber strips to create a massive wing for the Boeing 777X, after a ceremony earlier marking the beginning of production of the jetliner Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Everett, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
An automated fiber placement machine lays down carbon fiber strips to create a massive wing for the Boeing 777X, after a ceremony earlier marking the beginning of production of the jetliner Monday, Oct. 23, 2017, in Everett, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)

Boeing has set up five job fairs in the region in a new push to hire manufacturing workers, with a particular need for assemblers, electricians and aviation-maintenance technicians.

The company says that aside from candidates with aircraft-mechanic experience, it is looking to hire and train people with skills in construction, auto mechanics, electrical work, precision machining, welding and similar manufacturing programs.

Still, the company declined to say if this indicates an overall employment uptick ahead.

Boeing cut thousands of machinist jobs this year by offering voluntary retirement benefits. Many older, more experienced workers took advantage of the opportunity to retire early.

But that process has left the company short-handed. Last month, Boeing management signed an agreement with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 751 allowing it to hire back experienced retirees on a temporary six-month basis to cover immediate needs and to train new hires.

This month, the focus is on getting those new hires.

The first job fair was held Thursday in Renton. Four more are scheduled, in Yakima, Tacoma, Everett and Bremerton.

Boeing has continued to shed jobs in Washington state, with 369 jobs cut last month. Since the company’s last jobs peak five years ago this month, Boeing employment here is now down 20,781 jobs.

However, Boeing isn’t willing to declare a positive turnaround in that trend.

On a conference call late last month, Boeing Chairman Dennis Muilenburg said Boeing has continued hiring new people – 11,500 over the past three years – even as overall employment levels have fallen.

These are “the ebbs and flows of the workforce that come with a big, global industrial company,” Muilenburg said.

Asked specifically on Friday about local job prospects, Boeing spokesman Tom Kim declined to speculate on whether employment in the state might finally be turning upward again.

“We continue to hire in critical areas. And we’ve made reductions in other areas – all part of balancing our business needs,” Kim said. “Our employment levels are always changing based on market conditions, production rates and starting up or ramping down airplane-development programs.”

But Kim conceded that the rush of job fairs is new, the first held in several years for manufacturing positions.

This suggests that the downward slide, at least for machinist jobs, may be arrested for now.