About a dozen juniors and seniors from Tacoma high schools are helping build airplanes as part of the state's first youth apprenticeship in aerospace and manufacturing.
The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee launched the program last week with several manufacturers in Pierce County.
The program is part of a larger effort in Washington state to provide more career-oriented education for students, according to committee spokesman Aaron Ferrell.
"This program is also a lot about exposure and getting an opportunity for kids who maybe don't fit that four-year college mold," Ferrell said.
The program may also benefit students who want a degree in a related field like engineering, Ferrell said.
Apprenticeships are common in manufacturing, but they are typically reserved for people who have already graduated.
The student-apprentices will learn how to run the machines to make, among other things, some of the parts that will ultimately be used by Boeing and Airbus.
The people who do that work now are getting older. It takes a long time to learn those skills, so manufacturers want to attract workers while they're young.
"Boeing's in our own backyard. The largest cluster of aerospace companies in the entire world is right here in Washington state," Ferrell said.
Students work between 10 and 20 hours per week, depending on their normal school schedule, in addition to taking a weekly class. They get paid for that time and they get college credit.
Ultimately the students will put in 2,000 hours, or about three college quarters, Ferrell said.
The Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee also plans to launch a similar program in Yakima.