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© 2009 CORD

The Tech Prep Program at the Boeing Fabrication plant in Portland, Oregon, is a partnership between The Boeing Company, the International Association of Machinists (IAM), Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC), and high schools in the Portland and Vancouver areas.

This contractually established program is aimed at preparing young people for careers in the aerospace manufacturing sector. The program consists of a three-year paid summer internship, beginning after completion of the high school junior year. Homeschooled students are also encouraged to apply. First- and second-year students participate in a four-week study program; third-year students complete a six-week job-shadow program.

The program was launched in 1994 to address ten core competencies validated and verified by 177 manufacturing companies, including Boeing. The program's formation was timely, as workforce demographics indicated a looming exodus of seasoned employees and a subsequent shortage of knowledge and skills. Alongside the possibility of a 20-percent retirement-driven reduction in Boeing's workforce was a budget-driven de-emphasis on manufacturing and skilled trades in the area secondary schools that had formerly fed the high-school-to-college pipeline for industry jobs.

To be considered, students must be at least 16 years old; have a 2.5 GPA or higher; complete manufacturing coursework and/or have experience in manufacturing; and obtain a recommendation from a school teacher, counselor, or other professional. After applications have been received, Boeing conducts a down-select process and then invites students to a formal, structured interview. Pending the results of that process, twelve students are offered positions as summer interns for year one of the program.

The program has developed strategies designed to strengthen the high-school-to-college pipeline. Year one consists of coursework designed to build technical and math skills, blueprint reading capability, and safety and teamwork competence. Students complete projects including the design and manufacture of a hammer using lathes and mills. They also tour local manufacturing facilities and learn about potential career paths in aerospace manufacturing.

Second-year students build upon first-year skills, with the additional component of customer satisfaction. A customer presents project requirements, including specifications and desired functionality. Students then work together in teams to design and build the project (a rocket boat), a process that provides several opportunities for launch, redesign, and product improvement. The customer then reviews the final product and offers feedback to the teams with regard to their efforts and success or failure in meeting the project requirements.

Third-year students participate in a six-week job-shadow program based on their primary areas of interest. Students can rotate through a variety of areas including entry-level positions in quality assurance, manufacturing engineering, maintenance, painting, and assembly (see here). To date, 85 students have graduated from the three-year program. Ten of those graduates have been hired by Boeing Portland and five have gone through Boeing's apprenticeship program for machinists.

Portland's IAM/Boeing Joint Programs, in partnership with MHCC, has developed an associate degree program that allows machinist apprenticeship graduates to earn two-year degrees that articulate into the Oregon Institute of Technology's (OIT) bachelor's degree program in operations management.

Participating students are able to apply industrial skills training toward the core course requirements for associate degrees. With completion of industrial skills training and lower-division general education credits, some of which are completed through the Boeing coursework, associate degrees position students to complete bachelor's degrees within two academic years. Since machinist apprenticeship graduates are in many cases considered the "go-to" professionals on the shop floor, it is a natural progression for the OIT training and degree to provide them additional leadership opportunities. Boeing Portland's continued designation as a "Center for Machining Excellence" is further ensured by the contribution of these well-educated, high-skilled leaders.

To further encourage students to choose manufacturing careers, Boeing offers scholarships to Tech Prep students to attend MHCC's machine tool technology program. Five $500 scholarships are available each term to Tech Prep students.

The program's success is due in part to the strong union-company partnership under the model of IAM/Boeing Joint Programs, and close partnership with MHCC. Program instructors (both Boeing and IAM) spend approximately two months canvassing and recruiting in schools in the community.

The diversity of the backgrounds and learning styles of the participating students can be challenging for the instructors, all of whom are experts in their fields. The three instructors share apprenticeship, manufacturing, and management backgrounds totaling 91 years of combined experience. "The students ask a lot of intriguing questions, especially pertaining to career opportunities," said instructor Rick Meyer. "It's a lot just keeping up with them." The team at Boeing works diligently to continuously improve the program, seeking feedback from the students themselves on a daily basis.

In conclusion, the following two short testimonials describe the positive impact that the program is having on its participants.

"Although launching the Tech Prep program required an enormous amount of up-front preparation, organization, sweat and tears, the payoff has been exponentially greater than the effort. It is important to keep in mind that Tech Prep is primarily a people program, along with a technical and career program, encouraging students toward a viable career." –Retired Boeing employee Ron Lermo, who helped establish the initial coursework and program outline

"I was always into shop classes, making things, but I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. In the third year of the program, I chose gear cutting to job shadow, and that's when I found the area of manufacturing I was really interested in and knew I could pursue that as my career." –Boeing apprentice Kristen Brown

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Anne Suyama is NW Region Portfolio Manager, University Relations, The Boeing Company, Seattle, Washington. For more information,
contact Anne at Anne.suyama@boeing.com.