Teaching Marketable Skills with 21st-Century Materials

Article excerpt

When an industry titan calls the state governor with concerns about a labor shortage, you can bet an action plan is not far behind. That titan was Boeing, a $64 billion company with 83,000 employees, and the governor was Washington's Christine Gregoire. In 2007, nearly 60 percent of the aerospace workforce was 45 or older. (1) At least 20 percent were aged 55 to 64, and many, if not most, were already eligible for retirement. Boeing's workforce concerns initiated talks and funding opportunities with career and technical education (CTE) training educators in vocational and high school programs around Puget Sound. In March 2012, Gregoire appointed Alex Pietsch, formerly the head of economic development for Renton, to become director of a new state aerospace office. In addition, Pietsch will serve as executive director of the Washington Aerospace Partnership, an alliance of government, labor and business that led successful efforts to secure the Boeing 767 Tanker contract and 737 MAX production for Washington state.

Today, several educational programs are enjoying success, while still more began operations in 2012.

U.S. Leads the World

According to the Advanced Composite Materials Association (ACMA), the U.S. dominates the advanced composites industry in manufacturing, product research and distribution. There are more than 500,000 people employed in upwards of 7,000 companies, producing everything from airplane bodies to sports equipment to automobile parts. The $70 billion industry's projected 10-year growth rate is nearly 8 percent, which presents an array of opportunities for a highly skilled worker.

What Are Advanced Composites?

Advanced composites are characterized by the use of expensive, high-performance resin systems and high-strength, high-stiffness fiber reinforcement.

These materials have been adopted for use in sporting goods, where high-performance equipment like golf clubs, tennis rackets, fishing poles and archery equipment benefit from the light weight/high strength offered by advanced materials. There are a number of exotic resins and fibers used in advanced composites, however, epoxy resin and reinforcement fiber of aramid, carbon or graphite dominate this segment of the market. ACMA estimates that more than 50,000 new products could utilize advanced composite materials.

Puyallup High School Launches Program

With district consent, a budget of $30,000 and heavy support from local technical colleges and industry, former shop teacher Alex Macdonald put together one of the first high school composite courses

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"We were already participating in Project Lead the Way. I was the first teacher in the district to receive training," said Macdonald. "Our CTE director, Mike Joyner, asked me to expand our offerings into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and we decided that advanced composites was the direction we needed to go. Project Lead the Way was heavy in math and science, and STEM, with its engineering and technology emphasis, gave us a natural extension for the students."

The district's junior high schools offered the first course, Gateway to. Technology (GTT). The other two district high schools were offering magnet CTE programs in metalworks and aviation. Macdonald's preference was to get some science and technology into the curricula that was not offered elsewhere. With the heavy influence aviation plays in the Northwest, composites was a natural fit.

Puyallup High School's courses are set up so that student outcomes can take a variety of paths. "Many of our kids will go into production/manufacturing environments, and we give them a very solid basis for further vocational training or apprenticeships," said Macdonald. "Still others find the material-science aspects of advanced composites a fascinating career path, while engineering types will go on to careers designing and building future applications. …