Elma High School students become official apprentices

Commitment to the future. That was the message that rang the loudest at Elma High School’s youth apprenticeship signing night ceremony on Thursday night, May 19.

Hosted by Aerospace Joint Apprentice Committee (AJAC), the event saw five junior students become the first in Grays Harbor County to receive an apprenticeship offer from local advanced manufacturing companies in the Pacific Northwest.

As each of the five new apprentices got to share their excitement for getting the chance to work through AJAC, the idea of what the future could hold showed glimpses of promise for the program expanding further for the Elma School District.

“It’s a good idea for my future and just thinking that I could have a job before I even get out of high school,” said Brandon Orcutt, a junior who will be working for Sierra Pacific Industries. “It’s a head start for life in general and this will allow me an easier opportunity to get a job in the field that I like. I’m happy that AJAC is working with our school to give this to us.”

AJAC, which is currently going through a rebrand to promote themselves as being “Beyond Aerospace,” has been expanding its Youth Apprenticeship program since 2017. With the addition of Elma High School, the program has seen its roots flourish in 15 school districts across Washington. They feel that hands-on learning and real-world experience is the best way to prepare high school students to take part in the regional economy.

Lynn Stickland, who serves as the executive director of AJAC, spoke during the ceremony to express her excitement of the program and how this is an opportunity for kids to have more options as they get ready to graduate high school.

“When I was a kid, we didn’t have these apprenticeship programs in place for us to succeed. We either went to college or straight to work,” Stickland explained. “Our goal really is to just encourage these kids to understand that there is an alternative to college if they don’t want to go that route, especially in rural communities like this one.”

Strickland said the hope of the AJAC program is to eventually spread its roots into every county in Washington and promote apprenticeship opportunities. She also said while the fields of aerospace and advanced manufacturing are widely male-dominated fields, young girls should not feel discouraged about joining. AJAC is actively advocating for more to join.

The highlight of the ceremony took place when the five youth apprentices got to sign paperwork alongside their sponsoring companies to begin their apprenticeships. Sierra Pacific Industries signed three of the apprentices — Orcutt, Sonny Mougous, and Kaleb Anderson. Vaughan Company signed Logan Zimmerman, while A&R Aviation signed Misael Oliveros Farias, who also got to speak to the crowd to give his perspective of being part of the program.

“This opportunity feels like my career is actually starting, especially since I’ve always had a passion for aviation.” Farias said.

While the ceremony featured speakers from the Elma School District, it also allowed an opportunity for the sponsoring companies to give their outlook as employers. Stacie Vaughan, who spoke on behalf of Vaughan Company, said she is really excited for the company to jump into the youth apprenticeship foray and realize its potential.

“We’re learning just like everyone else is. Our goal is that we don’t want to have someone in here to have them work, we want them to learn and grow.” Vaughan explained.

As the students complete their youth apprenticeships over the summer and their senior year, they will still have to complete their normal obligations to graduate on time. To help with that, AJAC will be working alongside the employers and the apprentices to help them in any way they can keep them on track.

While it’s no secret that rural communities, such as those that populate the East County region of Grays Harbor, are at a disadvantage to resources and opportunities in comparison to urban or metropolitan areas, programs such as AJAC can look to help with that problem by promoting paths for kids looking to have successful futures.