Students Launch Boeing Careers Days After Graduation
St. Louis Community College’s Center for Workforce Innovation was teeming with proud families, educators, and Boeing employees on May 15, 2019. They had gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of 6 extraordinary young people who comprised the first class of high school students to conquer the challenging STLCC Boeing Pre-Employment Training program, a tuition-free, intensive training course in sheet metal assembly and riveting to prepare them to join the advanced manufacturing teams who produce the parts for several of Boeing’s top planes. Two Tech soon-to-be grads, Jay Ware of South Tech and Matt Martin of North Tech, left the ceremony with not only their certificates but also offers of employment as assembly mechanics to begin their careers this June.
Becky Epps, Project Manager of the Center for Workforce Innovation and Technical Training for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College, couldn’t be happier with the results of this first high school class. Being accepted into the program wasn’t easy. Of 44 initial applicants, 23 were able to progress through initial evaluations. Once test scores and assessments were completed, 9 actually started the training and 6 graduated. “As members of our pilot course, they set the bar very high with their attitude and work ethic,” she said of the students. Determination, work ethic, and good attitudes were absolutely required: students attended the training program Monday through Thursday from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm beginning January 7 and continuing through April 29, they attended high school as normal and many also held part-time jobs while handling their homework, extracurricular activities, and other demands on their time. Ware felt his biggest challenge was getting to the program on time as he had to work to secure transportation each week. Miller said sacrificing sleep was rough. But both agreed the payoff was well worth it and learned they were capable of overcoming obstacles which would have blocked the progress of many high school seniors.
The best part of the event occurred after the graduation ceremony when the students were asked to line up in front of the crowd to hear some important news. Each had conducted interviews with hiring teams the day prior, a guaranteed opportunity for all program completers, but none knew yet if they had secured job offers. Gerald Hager, LLOC MQS Americas Midwest Region Faculty Manager, ended the suspense by handing each student a Boeing ball cap embossed with a plane logo and announced that their cap logo indicated the manufacturing teams that had made them employment offers. Parents and educators burst into applause following the announcement and the students were thrilled. “I was excited and relieved and shocked that the offer had come so early,” said Ware. Miller was “not expecting that” and said, “I was so happy, I can’t wait to start!” Ware will be working on Boeing’s newest plane, the 777X, and Miller will join the F-15 assembly team. It was an exciting end to the ceremony, envisioned by Dan Stroot, Senior Manager of Learning, Training, and Development. “I thought of it like the draft,” he said, “and how great it would be if we could surprise them.” He credited his team with a lot of extra effort to make the offers come through for the students in time for graduation.
As newly hired Boeing assembly mechanics, these 18-year-olds will begin earning $17 an hour, a rate that can quickly rise over the course of their employment. Overtime opportunities are a minimum of 10% and .50 raises occur every 6 months along with possible performance bonuses. They will also have health and wellness benefits, a 401K, and tuition reimbursement of up $15,000 annually after working for Boeing for a year. Landing a career starting at $35,000 annually with benefits is something many recent college graduates yearn for, let alone beginning one with a company that will support their advancement.
Instructor Dave Miller strongly encouraged the recent grads to take advantage of Boeing’s offers of additional education. “Don’t stop here,” he said, “what will you do? You can do anything you desire in there…” emphasizing the culture of support and opportunity he had experienced. Miller co-taught the high schoolers with Curt Graf, both of whom are Boeing instructors by day and STLCC instructors by night. Although they had some hesitation about teaching high school students, they were very happy with the pilot program results. “You guys were awesome. I have not had more fun with any group – you guys cheered me up every night,” Graf told the graduates.
Miller and Graf attended the ceremony along with Hart Nelson, STLCC Associate Vice Chancellor for Workforce Solutions; Wally Page, Vice President of Manufacturing, Strike, Surveillance, and Mobility; Epps; several Boeing mentors and Kelly Milos, the Program Coordinator. She served as the main contact for students throughout the program and assisted them with their resumes, walked them through interview prep, and helped them with any barriers they encountered. “She really carried them through it,” said Epps. Milos’ pride in their accomplishments was evident during the ceremony as she had been their cheerleader throughout.
Epps and the program team will be running the course for high school seniors again next year and hope to see it grow. “We look forward to a very successful high school program in 2020,” she said. St. Louis County high school students can explore a variety of programs at North and South Tech High Schools to prepare them for the STLCC Boeing Pre-Employment Training program. To see our full list of courses, visit the programs pages of our websites at www.northtechnical.org and www.southtechnical.org. Read more about the STLCC Boeing Pre-Employment Training program here.