Union urges commitment to education, worker training
SEATTLE – The United States must improve the quality of its public education and vocational training systems if it is to retain its global leadership in aerospace, one of Machinists Union District Lodge 751’s senior officers told members of Congress Monday.
“We need to start making serious investments in our schools, and in other workforce training programs, like apprenticeships,” said Jim Bearden, who is the administrative assistant for the lodge.
“Having this kind of workforce is essential to our nation’s future,” he said. “If we don’t have enough trained workers to meet the demand, America will lose our position as the world’s leader in aerospace.”
Bearden was one of the experts who offered testimony at a U.S. Senate field hearing convened by Sen. Maria Cantwell on Monday in Seattle. The Senate’s Committee on Science and Transportation met to discuss aerospace workforce issues.
He stressed the need to revive vocational education programs in the nation’s public schools.
“Over the past 15 years or so, our schools have promoted the idea that everyone needs to go to college, to get a four-year degree and become a software engineer or a banker,” Bearden said. “That’s a shame. It’s possible to make a good living as a manufacturing worker in aerospace, without going to college.”
But to be successful in an aerospace manufacturing job, young workers need a mix of physical skills – like being able to operate both simple and complex tools – plus a solid grounding in science and math.
“Geometry and trigonometry in particular, but also beginning calculus,” Bearden said. “They need to understand principals of physics, metallurgy and electricity, and the new composite technologies.”
Specifically, the union leader called on Congress to:
- Increase funding for vocational education in public schools and at local community and technical colleges;
- Encourage a “rebirth” of manufacturing apprenticeships; and
- Improve the quality of math and science education nationwide.
Congress should take action quickly, Bearden said.
“Ninety-nine percent of our children will never become investment bankers or Wall Street financiers,” he said. “Not everyone is interested in or can afford attend college — I couldn’t.”
Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents some 30,000 working men and women at 45 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In 2010, District 751 members used collective bargaining to reach contracts with 22 of those employers, without a single work day lost to strikes.
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