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Clayton Berge entered AJAC’s Production Technician Youth Apprenticeship Program in 2018 through Senior Aerospace-AMT, a leading manufacturer of structural parts for the leading OEMs in the large business and regional jet markets based out of Arlington. Berge is using an air nozzle to clean coolant off a machined aerospace part. He is currently a student at Arlington High School. (Aaron Ferrell)

This fall, about 120 Washington high-school juniors and seniors will earn a paycheck, work experience, and high school and college credit  — all at the same time.

They're becoming apprentices through Career Connect Washington, a state program that is expanding the number of youth apprentices with $25 million in money from the Legislature over the next two years. The aim of the program is to get more young people started on their careers by combining school and work experience.

The idea is to get more students to work at local companies and learn career skills during high school.

Three years ago, just 15 students participated in youth apprenticeships in a few industries, said John Aultman, who works in the governor's office as a senior policy adviser for higher education and the workforce. There are now more than 50 employers from five different industries supporting the 120 new apprentices, he said.

The largest program is the Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee (AJAC), a statewide, nonprofit aerospace and advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program that is working to train young people to fill thousands of openings in the aerospace industry in the next five years as older workers retire. The program, which had 17 youth apprentices two years ago, will take on 94 high school apprentices this year, said Aaron Ferrell, marketing communications manager for AJAC.

The AJAC program could grow to as many as 125 additional apprentices by next year, said Chris Pierson, the committee's community partnerships manager.

Each of AJAC's youth apprentices will work full time over the summer while they are mentored one-on-one on the job. When they return to school in the fall, they'll work part time for the company sponsoring the apprenticeship and spend the rest of the week in school, taking classes that will also earn them college credit, Ferrell said.

Over two years, the students could earn up to 15 college credits and as much as $28,000 a year from the companies they work for. (State dollars do not go to pay student salaries.)

So far, about one-third of AJAC participants have gone on to college, most to get degrees in engineering. Another third became adult apprentices, working toward becoming aerospace machinists. Some students stayed with their employer after graduating from high school, and about 10 percent didn't complete the program, Ferrell said.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 585,000 apprentices nationwide last year, an increase of 56 percent since 2013. There were 16,622 active apprenticeships in Washington, more than one-third of which were new apprenticeships. High school apprentices make up only a tiny fraction of that number; most apprentices are adults.

The apprenticeship expansion is a part of the Workforce Education Investment Act, a major bill passed by state lawmakers at the end of the 2019 session. It's the same bill that greatly expanded college tuition grants.

The bill expands apprenticeships for more than just high-school students — it aims to grow the number of apprenticeships for people up to age 29. Many of those apprentices will work for local companies and take classes at community colleges, Aultman said. The $25 million in state funding will be used to pay for increased enrollment in community and technical colleges, and to support career training in K-12 schools.

On Friday, about 100 high-school students from 12 districts across the state celebrated the beginning of their registered apprenticeships during a youth apprenticeship signing day ceremony at the ShoWare Center in Ken. In addition to aerospace, apprenticeships are also being formed in advanced manufacturing, automotive and culinary fields.