A apprenticed machinist at age 21, his own business degree and shop before he’s 30 years old, this is what Jae Bloomfield, a Hazen High School senior, has the opportunity to do thanks to a production technician youth apprenticeship through the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee, known as AJAC.
“Employers cannot find enough skilled workers right now, so people like Jae, he’s going to be the hottest thing on the market,” Marketing Communications Manager of AJAC Aaron Ferrell said. “There’s nobody out there in the economy that has his skill set at his age.”
Bloomfield initially took four tours of machinery companies he could work for, and he decided on Aero-Plastics.
Founded in 1945, the company works closely with aerospace companies like Boeing, as well as manufacturing parts for other commercial applications like medicine or military.
Bloomfield said he chose Aero-Plasitcs for it’s organization, and just a month into his internship he said it’s helped him discover what he wants to do.
“It’s taught me a lot, like the technical side, learning the machines,” Bloomfield said. “And then it’s illuminated the path I want to go, production machinery.”
Washington has the largest cluster of aerospace companies in the world, according to the AviationBenefits.org. The aerospace manufacturing fields are what draw a lot of interest from Renton students in this apprenticeship program, Ferrell said.
Currently, he’s working full time, paid, at his apprenticeship. These youth apprenticeships are two years, but Bloomfield hopes to turn it into an adult apprenticeship after graduating high school.
Ferrell compared it to running start. By doing this youth apprenticeship, Bloomfield can shave time off of his normally four-year adult apprenticeship. One other people often don’t start until their late twenties.
“He’s going to get almost an entire associate’s degree paid for through these programs,” Ferrell said.
Bloomfield is one of 53 youth apprentices with AJAC this year. Last year, when the program started, there were 15 apprentices, all at Tacoma Public Schools.
“The program is really exploding,” Ferrell said.
But this explosion isn’t without encouragement. Gov. Jay Inslee’s Career Connect Washington Initiative has a goal to connect 100,000 students with these sorts of career opportunities, and AJAC’s program is part of the puzzle.
Washington is the seventh state to start this type of youth apprentice program. In comparison, South Carolina’s similar program now has 5,000 to 10,000 apprenticeships.
“It just takes a small amount of success before people take wind of what these kids are doing,” Ferrell said.
Bloomfield has been working with machinery for a long time, long before his first year taking shop at Hazen with his teacher Jonathan Clark who introduced Bloomfield to the program.
Clark won a 2018 “Outstanding Secondary Teacher” award from the Renton School Board in March.
For around nine years, Bloomfield said he’s been volunteering at Northwest Railway Museum with his dad. He started as a crew member before switching to the shop three years ago, where he uses conventional machinery to try to restore old trains.
So when Bloomfield is not at his full time apprenticeship at Aero-Plastics, he’s restoring a 112-year-old locomotive. Getting a train that old up-and-running can take six to eight years, he said.
When school starts up again, he will move from full time to part time, as well as taking an after school class on Thursdays that AJAC will coordinate to have run by “shop” teacher Clark.
“So not only can he teach these kids during the school day, he can also teach these apprenticeship classes at night for the kids that want to do the apprenticeship program,” Ferrell said. “It’s kind of like getting your favorite teacher in the day and then in the evening too.”
In apprenticeship programs students like Bloomfield receive a wage increase for every 1,000 hours they work, another thing he has to look forward to. But he’s also gaining what Ferrell called “soft skills,” having to be at work on time everyday and working with other, more experienced machinists helps you mature quickly.
“Like my dad says, it changes you from like a boy to a man,” Bloomfield said.