Puyallup High students learn manufacturing skills
Apprenticeship opportunities prepare students for the future
Posted on 03/06/2019
Apprenticeship opportunities prepare students for the future

Imagine graduating from high school with the skills to make airplane parts. Some students at Puyallup High School are doing just that.

Nine students in Andy McClure’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) class are taking advantage of an apprenticeship opportunity to learn manufacturing processes and how to operate industry-level equipment. Students are paid by the companies they work for and continue to take classes at school.

Beginning last spring, the Puyallup School District formed a new partnership with the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC) to provide students with the opportunity to enroll in AJAC’s Production Technician (Youth) Apprenticeship program. Students were invited to complete applications, interviews began in May, and those who were hired started work last summer.

STEM StudentStudents gain on the job training and college level classroom instruction while learning skills in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries. They can take the skills learned in STEM and apply them to the working world.

In McClure’s classroom at Puyallup High students learn to read engineering drawings, use math for calculations, and apply logical thinking and problem solving. Next, they use machines to cut materials. “The first year is spent learning the order. They are required to work from the blueprint,” says McClure. For example, what do the symbols mean, where to begin, which steps come first, and then how to take the information and apply it to make pieces.

STEM photoMcClure says the class is a combination of engineering and manufacturing. Students learn materials science. They learn about composites and the effects of heat on metal. “We use physics and properties of matter in what we do. We take things learned in chemistry and apply them to corrosion and they can see how materials change,” says McClure.

What they learn in the classroom provides a level of basic skills the employer doesn’t have to teach. “That’s what we do in here — basic skills. It makes it so much easier for them at the work site,” says McClure.

Senior Andrew Schwartfigure has an apprenticeship at Farwest Air on Puyallup’s north hill. They build ground support lifts and produce wrenches to take wheels off airplanes. He uses machines to process aluminum, steel, brass, plastic, and alloys. When he graduates in June, he plans to continue advancing in the manufacturing career field.

Senior Jackson Fellows works at Norfil Manufacturing where they make mounting brackets to attach engines to airplanes. The parts are shipped to an aerospace company to be assembled with other parts, and eventually are used by Airbus.

If he moves from the youth apprentice program to the adult apprenticeship after graduation, he could receive his journeyman card in four years. “It’s proof that you know how to run the machines. It opens up doors that wouldn’t normally be available and you get paid at a certain rate,” says Fellows.

Senior Matt Bryant works with aluminum and stainless steel at American Structures & Design, a company that builds railing systems for balconies. He performs a variety of tasks including picking orders, pulling parts, and assembly.

 “You need to know what you’re doing,” says Bryant. He says it’s important to read any notes, go slowly, and know how to follow a work order. For example, there are many different options for an end post. “You have to know what you are drilling.” He plans to continue into the adult apprenticeship program after graduation in order to get his journeyman’s license.

“Just getting out there in the working world, building a resume, earning money in high school, and going to school at the same time — that’s nice!” Bryant is currently taking English, World Studies, and Stage Craft at Puyallup.

McClure says the skills learned in class and through the apprenticeship give them choices for the future. The knowledge can be used to obtain a job in manufacturing, or as a starting point to continue a career in engineering.

“I have a strong foundation in a lot of things. I am not limited and can
take the machining skills to manufacturing or engineering." 
Puyallup High senior Andrew Schwartfigure 

STEM Classroom“My role is to teach them the theory of what they do at work and where their work has evolved. I teach the manual side, then they use those skills in the apprenticeship,” says McClure.

Career and Technical Education Director Maija Thiel says “Our goal as a school district is to give students multiple post-secondary options both for careers and ongoing education.”


Nancy French