By Jennifer Ferrero
The teens in the aerospace and advanced manufacturing program at Spokane Valley Tech are unfazed by the fact that it is summer and they are in school. In reality, they are relishing in the opportunity to learn how to weld, rivet, and use heavy machinery to build Boeing kits and metal-based projects this summer.
The 2.5 week program, offered in two sessions this summer (for free) by a consortium of Spokane Valley school districts is a hot topic for students who want to get ahead. But more than that, it’s kids like Erin, a junior in high school who said she simply likes hands on work, “I like working with metal.” Erin feels that there are no barriers to her entering a career in aerospace and manufacturing if she chooses. “If you have the skill, it would be easy,” she noted.
Scott Oakshott, director of Spokane Valley Tech is enthusiastic about the opportunities the two-year old school offers. In the fall, they are looking at having three sessions of 18 students each in this program through school day and after school programs at the school.
Both Oakshott and Mark Bitz, an instructor in the program noted that it’s not only students taking notice – but the local business community as well. Oakshott said, “We had about 200 business people through here last year to work with students.” In addition to businesses embracing the facility and mentoring opportunities, students of Spokane Valley Tech are receiving more on-site visits to local manufacturing companies through field trips.
Since field trips are generally difficult to come by in larger schools, Oakshott noted that due to smaller classes, it’s easier for them because they can load up a van to transport kids. That combined with the willingness of businesses to provide tours has helped them to build real-world opportunity for the kids.
“Using equipment in local companies teaches students about the working environment,” noted Bitz. During the school year, the students can go in depth with skills training. Bitz shared that “Manufacturing trade skills practiced include riveting, sheet metal, composite manufacture, welding/brazing/cutting, machining, CAD and 3D printing.”
He added, “We also focus on manufacturing process skills such as industry standard safety practices/certification, measurement, quality analysis, self-assessment, root cause problem solving, collaboration, lean manufacturing, cost analysis, statistical process control, sketching and customer-focused design.”
This program is a long way from reading and reciting and students like 11th grade, Eric like the education he’s getting. Eric has taken robotics and jewelry making and now the aerospace/manufacturing class. He said, “I like learning new tools and welding…I like hands on work.”
Bill Close, the summer school and after school program instructor said that when he saw shop classes being removed in the high schools he was concerned. “We are behind the eight ball, but we are getting there,” he noted in response the the re-emergence of hands-on learning. He said that with places like Spokane Valley Tech, they can help fulfill the need of educating more skilled workers. “It’s an impressive set up here…interest is high,” he said.
While many parents may not be aware of these types of programs, they may be interested to know that some students may go right into work (after high school) in manufacturing assembly, but according to Bitz, he sees many of his students in management in the aerospace and manufacturing industries.
Oakshott and his instructors said that they have received many donations of equipment and materials from local businesses including Wagstaff and Altek, to name a couple. “We have 150 industry partners,” Oakshott said.
Bitz has passion for the courses and feels that in America and as people, “We need to make something of value, that’s where our economy comes from.”