Lindbergh High School senior Moyaak Chuol had a good day Feb. 23. He not only won an aerospace manufacturing competition against more than 50 other high school students, he received an email that he’d been accepted for a job at Boeing that he interviewed for days before.
Chuol won first place at the Washington state SkillsUSA Manufacturing Assembler State Competition, hosted by Boeing at the Everett plant. The competition has an interview portion and a hands-on manufacturing portion. The winner is then based off scores from both parts of the event.
This was Chuol’s second time competing. He was also an intern with Boeing.
At Lindbergh, Chuol is in his second year with the aerospace class. His victory didn’t come without hard work. He had been pushing himself in that class with the help of construction, industrial technology and aerospace teacher Creed Nelson.
The senior said he asked Nelson to give him a big project in preparation for this year’s competition. Nelson gave him 30 sheets of metal to drill and rivet in only two weeks.
Having that short window and working alone helped Chuol practice the focus he would need in the assembly competition. He was able to finish his project at the Boeing competition with a half-hour to spare.
“He’s been an incredible student from the beginning,” Nelson said. “As soon as he got into the class he wanted to learn as much as he could and turn it into a career.”
Chuol was already interested in hands-on projects from a younger age, learning from YouTube how to build. He’s also been interested in space since middle school. It made signing up for the aerospace class at Lindbergh an easy choice.
Last year a senior mentored Chuol on welding. That is what really pushed him towards the manufacturing.
Now Chuol is more of a shop supervisor than a student in the class, Nelson said. He gets along with everyone and wants to pass on his skills to other students.
Chuol will be starting as a general mechanic for Boeing in July. Now he just needs to finish the school year.
“I can’t screw it up, I have everything on a silver platter,” Chuol said.
The aerospace class, sort of a do-it-all shop class, opened up new ideas for Chuol’s post-graduation possibilities.
Chuol wants to make sure other students know there’s a lot more opportunities than college. The aerospace class, and Lindbergh in general, really showed him other paths.
“A lot of classes talk about college but I don’t think we get enough choices on that,” he said. “In this class, we get someone coming from a different company every month.”
It’s true, Nelson often brings in company speakers to give the students options for jobs, apprenticeships and internships. The students get to hear these representatives say they want to hire them out of high school.
Nelson has been running the Core Plus Aerospace program for seven years out of Lindbergh. He was in the first group of schools across the state to adopt it. Now it’s in Renton and Hazen as well.
Nelson doesn’t think of what he offers students as alternatives to college. He said most students aren’t going to universities. For Lindbergh about 40 percent of students won’t go to post-secondary school, but for a long time they weren’t being told about their possibilities.
He also pointed out many manufacturing companies like Boeing in Puget Sound will provide their employees with paid education as needed.
The graduating class of 2015, the state office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reported almost 60 percent of students were enrolled in college, but only around 20 percent of those students were going to a four-year institution.
Nelson also thinks high schools need to do a better job of showing kids their opportunities after graduation. He credits the Lindbergh counselors being on board with this idea for making “college isn’t for everybody” an actual practice at their school.
Boeing has also seen an increase in high school partners. John Turner, Boeing manager for workforce development said in the last three years they’ve gone from eight high schools to 40 that partner with them using the Core Plus Aerospace program, the same Lindbergh has.
Last year six high school competitors became Boeing employees after the SkillsUSA competition, and this year they will almost double that number, Turner said.
Terri Lufkin is the state director for SkillsUSA in high schools. She said during the competition Boeing tells the students about jobs available and the long term growth opportunities. The contest costs $50 a student who must be SkillsUSA members, which is $16. Last year, the state had almost 3,500 student and teacher members.
More information on SkillsUSA is at skillsusa.org.