Pierce County Aerospace Summit: Worker training in demand

Pierce County can strengthen its place in the competitive aerospace supply chain if government, industry and education institutions collaborate to train workers to meet the growing demand around the world. That was the key message at the second annual Pierce County Aerospace Summit, held Wednesday at Clover Park Technical College. More than 125 people attended, representing aerospace suppliers, manufacturers, industry service providers, policy makers and educators.

The summit was held a month after a Washington State delegation that included Governor Jay Inslee, Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, and Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board (EDB) president and CEO Bruce Kendall visited the Paris Air Show to focus on marketing Pierce County to aerospace firms from around the world to recruit them to open facilities here or to introduce them to key contacts in the area’s supply chain.

“This is not a pep talk. This is a call to action,” said McCarthy during the summit this week. “I went to the Paris Air Show last month to help recruit new business to Pierce County, and I witnessed first-hand the intense global competition for this business. We must be ready to show companies all over the world that we have what it takes to build the next generation of aircraft.”

The Aerospace Summit featured presentations on worker training by WorkForce Central, the Pierce County Skills Center, the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, Clover Park Technical College, Washington State University, Toray Composites, CIMtech, Pacific Coast Composites and PNJ Machining.

EDB president and CEO Kendall reported that Pierce County’s delegation to the Paris Air Show met with 31 companies and notched three solid leads. “In the past 24 hours, 76,001 airplanes landed in the United States,” said Kendall. “Clearly, there is potential for enormous business growth in this industry.”

Keynote speaker Michelle Burreson, workforce development manager for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, described the aerospace giant’s programs and partnerships to train workers. It’s an ongoing challenge, particularly as Boeing works to ramp up production of the 737 and 787. “Fifty percent of our U.S.-based workforce will be eligible to retire between 2011 and 2016,” she told the audience. “We are building strong relationships with educational institutions to create a highly skilled and readily available workforce for years to come.”

Alex Pietsch, director of the Washington State Office of Aerospace, outlined the state’s five-year plan to “protect and grow” aerospace jobs. That includes a concerted effort to win assembly of Boeing’s 777X as well as recruit global suppliers who work with Airbus, Embraer, Bombardier and other manufacturers. “It’s clear the world perceives Washington State as a global aerospace leader,” said Pietsch. “But there is strong competition. If we work together, we can attract companies from around the world to bring jobs here.”

The summit was an effort to offer local businesses updates from experts in manufacturing technology and workforce training as the region continues its push for a larger stake in the global market. Last year’s inaugural summit connected 150 people representing aerospace suppliers, government agencies, banks and schools. It was sponsored by US Bank, Workforce Central, and Moss Adams.