TOOELE — When Makayla Lear, 17, began her senior year at the Community Learning Center at Blue Peak High School in Tooele, she enrolled in the engineering and manufacturing curriculum with an eye on one day going into biomedical engineering to design prosthetics.
But, as talented young people do sometimes, she found another area of interest that became available at her school — aerospace and composites manufacturing — and signed up for it, too.
“I hope to be able to learn more insight about the engineering field, and taking these classes helps open some doors to companies and being able to get into a good program for college,” she said. The new program also offers students the opportunity to “get a foot in the door” at a firm in the aerospace composites industry, she said.
Talent Ready Utah, in conjunction with the Tooele County School District, Tooele Technical College and aerospace industry partners, Wednesday announced the expansion of the Utah Aerospace Pathways program in Tooele. Lear was among a group of students, educators and industry partners gathered at Tooele Technical College for the announcement.
Established in 2016, the program today has 33 students enrolled, according to Scott Romney, Talent Ready program manager with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
He said the industry is in need of thousands of people over the next several years to meet the demand for qualified workers in the composite manufacturing sector.
“We’re trying to get programs like this set up across the state to fill that pipeline,” he said. “There is a huge demand in this industry that is only growing.”
The program offers Utah students the chance to graduate high school with a certificate in aerospace manufacturing, giving them a leg up in starting an aerospace manufacturing career, he said.
Students participate in “externships” with partner aerospace companies where they work and learn hands-on with industry experts. That potential is what prompted Seth Priest, 17, a junior at the Community Learning Center at Blue Peak High School already enrolled in welding tech, to want to register for the Aerospace Pathways program as well.
“My counselor asked my if I wanted to join the (aerospace) program and it caught my interest immediately,” he said. “We put me into the manufacturing class immediately.”
He said having become aware of the high demand in the field, he felt getting certified would ensure him a good job in the near future along with the welding skills he would acquire.
“I also like to have a well-rounded education,” he said. “So long as it’s going to help me. I want to do it.”
Romney said the collaborative effort between education and industry benefits both the students and the businesses.
“The (aerospace) program will be a great addition to Tooele Technical College, as we recently added a new composites lab to the institution,” college President Paul Hacking said. “The skills students will learn in this program, along with the other pathway courses available at Tooele County School District, will provide them with incredible opportunities in an industry that has seen significant growth in the state of Utah.”
The program provides work-based learning experiences and offers a guaranteed interview for all students who earn the aerospace manufacturing certification, Romney said. Participating industry partners include Albany Engineered Composites, Hexcel, Hill Air Force Base, Janicki Industries, Kihomac, MSC Aerospace, Northrop Grumman, Parker Aerospace and Boeing.
“We are thrilled to support this expansion to Tooele County and thank the education partners that provide training for these students,” said Michael Gitto, senior human resources business partner at Boeing Salt Lake. “It is an incredibly exciting time to join the aerospace industry, which is poised for growth in commercial, defense, and space exploration, requiring new skills and providing unique career opportunities.”
The Utah Aerospace Pathways program provides high school students the opportunity to consider secondary education and a prospective career, explained Allan Erichsen, engineering, robotics and manufacturing teacher in the Tooele County School District. Students take a manufacturing principles course at the Community Learning Center at Blue Peak High School completing a composites course at Tooele Technical College.
“This is a perfect example of what collaboration between K-12, secondary education and industry can do to help students prepare for the future,” said Tooele County School District Superintendent Scott Rogers.