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Skills, Inc. and apprenticeship program celebrate new partnership

Miley Molestad, left, an apprentice for the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, is training to become a precision sheet metal fabricator. With her is Tom Brosius, vice president and general manager of Orion Industries. AJAC has partnered with Skills, Inc. to train workers for aerospace manufacturing.  - Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter
Miley Molestad, left, an apprentice for the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, is training to become a precision sheet metal fabricator. With her is Tom Brosius, vice president and general manager of Orion Industries. AJAC has partnered with Skills, Inc. to train workers for aerospace manufacturing.
— image credit: Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter

Auburn-based aerospace parts maker Skills, Inc. on April 30 celebrated its sparkling new partnership with AJAC, the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, at its plant on C Street North.

And there was a lot to shout about.

The partnership, formed to train precision sheet metal fabricators, is new in time and kind, representing the first time any business has hosted AJAC.

For 50 years, Skills Inc. has made aerospace parts at the C Street North plant in Auburn.

AJAC, which is registered with the state of Washington, provides apprenticeship training throughout the state. Although it usually works with schools, it recently found itself in need of a partner, and Skills, Inc. offered its hand.

"We're celebrating a type of apprenticeship called precision sheet metal fabrication," said Todd Dunnington, CEO of Skills Inc. "That's a core skill set in aerospace manufacturing. Some are called CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machinists, but that's a different skill set. Our interest here is aerospace sheet metal mechanics. It is a 40-year-old trade within The Boeing Co., within the supply chain. Many of those individuals are retiring, and that knowledge is disappearing, but it's still needed to make airplanes and the tens of millions of sheet metal parts that go into airplanes."

Founded in 2008, AJAC today has 256 apprentices working in more than 150 organizations throughout the state. This year the organization graduates 29 people, its largest class ever. It has 10 different occupations on its register of standards, including machining, said Demetria Lynn Strickland, interim executive director of AJAC.

"We are celebrating the partnership of training and employers to increase the skills of the work force," Strickland said. "Employers need a skilled, trained work force, and Skills Inc. is a great partner. Not only has it provided the training facility for us to be able to conduct the training, it has also provided the instructors."

It is a 4,000-hour program, split between on-the-job-training and some classroom instruction. The classes are credited and apply toward an associates degree. Graduates, Dunnington said, can walk out the door, go to Boeing and get a job.

"We're interested in promoting our own employees through this apprenticeship program," Dunnington said.

Maple Valley resident Miley Molestad, for eight years a sheet metal technician with Orion Industries, is an AJAC apprentice.

"I started out in my two-year program at Green River Community College to earn my associates degree in manufacturing," Molestad said. "As time passed, the AJAC program came to Orion and I said, 'What the heck, I'll do that, too.'

"The more skills I can gain, the better off I will be, as far as I am concerned," Molestad added. "I want my employer to say, 'Hey, Miley, can you go do this?' and be able to go do it."

"I have never seen anybody as determined to make something of them-self and succeed as Miley," said Tom Brosius, vice president and general manager of Orion Industries. "Orion and Skills have been partners in a lot of businesses for a long time. A lot of our work goes to Skills to get finished, and vice-versa. We have a close relationship."

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