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Sunday, August 9, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Editorial: Air Washington a model for other states

Editorial

Air Washington may be the state’s second-most successful 11-man team.

Led by Spokane Community College, a consortium that included 10 other community colleges around the state received more recognition last month from a national center charged with identifying successful workforce training programs, and spreading the word among other two-year schools.

The Office of Community College Research and Leadership based at the University of Illinois celebrated the collaboration among Washington campuses, job-training councils and industry that has helped more than 1,600 participants get jobs; more than 40 percent above the goal of 1,134 set at the start of the four-year program.

By far the bulk of those were taken by students who jumped into starting-level positions before completing the requirements for an associate degree. With aerospace wages being what they are, an early exit to get a paycheck is understandable.

But what the OCCRL focused on was the work Air Washington did to bring all the campuses together to identify what manufacturing sectors they would focus on, develop curricula and sort out which campuses would do what.

Spokane Community College, for example, decided to pursue advanced manufacturing, airframe and powerplant mechanics, composites and electronics/avionics. Other campuses selected among those four and a fifth – aircraft assembly – that wasn’t a fit for Spokane.

Students get help with funding and career guidance from navigators who are also contact points for employers.

SCC was the conduit for a $20million U.S. Department of Labor grant that was distributed among the other participants for equipment, instructional materials and the like. The last of the grant money was spent last fall.

Grants awarded under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program are a rare example of the federal government not reinventing the wheel, or greasing the squeaky wheel, but finding the quiet wheels and trying to install them on more vehicles, or airplanes.

Air Washington’s success is well known within the state, but not so much elsewhere, and the Department of Labor money was intended, in part, to have the message shared with other states as an example of a transformative initiative, a program funded partly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As OCCRL noted, years before the grant was awarded, in the 1990s, Washington had begun with the creation of the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, and an Academic Alignment Team Boeing Co. deployed in 2010 to move the effort along.

With the federal money gone, the campuses reset priorities. SCC dropped composites, retained its manufacturing and maintenance programs with state money, and continues avionics with funds from the Community Colleges of Spokane.

As with that other 11-man team, the roster and the roles are always changing.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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