By Jennifer Ferrero, APR and Dr. Richard Strand, Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing

Three years ago, the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, along with Boeing, an industry partner, began to look at the success of the automotive industry in Kentucky. A group called Automotive Manufacturing Technical Education Collaborative (AMTEC), had successfully ramped up the training and education of automotive workers in the region through partnerships with industry, educational institutions, and curriculum experts.

The Center of Excellence brought AMTEC/KY to Washington to look at modifying the aerospace and advanced manufacturing curriculum at our community and technical colleges (CTCs) and to rapidly ramp up workforce development in the aerospace industry, much as they had done in automotive.

Through a process called “Curriculum Crosswalks,” instructors from Washington’s CTCs, along with subject matter experts, and Dr. Richard Strand from the Center of Excellence, assessed what was being taught at the colleges through all programs in industrial machine maintenance. What was found statewide, is that many of the same programs existed, but by different names, course numbers, and content. It was determined that through a process of assessment, it would be easier to streamline education so that students going after the same bucket of industry jobs would present more symbiotic training to employers.

Dr. Richard Strand, of the COE said, “In early 2015, industry representatives, led by the Boeing Company, drew attention to the growing need for technicians skilled in the field of Mechatronics. The Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, based on growing industry demand, conducted a survey of existing programs and determined that while there were many state colleges capable of producing skilled Mechatronics technicians, few were geared up to do so. In many cases, institutions simply lacked the proper equipment, the curricular focus, and/or the properly trained faculty necessary to offer a credible program.”

Two instructors, Tim Fiegenbaum (North Seattle College), and Jeff Purdy (Shoreline Community College), were part of the mix who went through the Crosswalk process. Fiegenbaum said that per the AMTEC curriculum and subject matter experts, their programs were assessed based upon what they “lacked, met, or exceeded.” He said in some cases, a program may have met or exceeded the standards. But by going through this exercise with other colleges, North Seattle and Shoreline were able to determine strengths within each of their programs. Where they lacked instructional skill in electronics, robotics, or pneumatics, for example, they were able to partner with each other. For these two colleges, only about 10-miles apart, they now have students that attend classes at both locations to earn an AAS in Mechatronics, a 2-year degree.

Dr. Strand added, “The Crosswalks have allowed staff, faculty and industry stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop a viable career pathway that is applicable to industry needs and results in graduates with a skill set tied to commonly agreed upon program standards that are judged to be relevant to the field. Given the program’s success, further Crosswalks are planned soon at Bellingham Technical College and Wenatchee Valley College along with other potential institutions to further expand pipeline capacity.”