An aerospace composite course at the Airway Heights Corrections Center is providing hands-on lessons for offenders.
The program teaches offenders skills to help them obtain an entry level job creating aerospace composite materials, covering all of the elements needed to be a versatile presence in the workforce.
Chad Lewis, Director of Department of Corrections communications, said the concept of teaching and putting vocational skills to work at the same time has made the program more effective and also increased material retention.
“GED scores are up tremendously,” he said.
While the program is still new to the Airway Heights facility, several offenders have already earned their GEDs. Over half of the students in the class didn’t have a GED when they began.
Instructional material in the class is taught in conjunction with the Community Colleges of Spokane, who reached out to manufacturers to ensure everything in the class is relevant and up to current standards. Material is taught over three quarters at the corrections center.
“We are facing a strong shortage of people trained to be aerospace composite technicians,” Lewis said. “This is one of five examples across the state. The one here is unique, because it’s the only one with aerospace compositing.”
David Murley, Spokane Community College’s dean of education – Airway Heights Corrections Center, said the goal is to provided offenders with an opportunity.
“The unique thing about this is we’re targeting offenders to make a change in their lives to reduce recidivism,” he said. “Getting employment on the outside is what vocational programs are all about.”
During a press tour last week, offenders were using trigonometry to determine the amount of material needed to make an epoxy resin cover on a beveled foam square.
SCC went to representatives from companies in the region and asked what skills were needed to obtain an entry level job in the composites industry. The short answer: a little bit of everything.
Offenders are taught on computer numerated control (CNC), which covers machining, milling and routing; computer aided design (CAD) and other composite-related instruction.
An example of composites can be seen in the shell of the Boeing 787 aircraft, which is one large piece of composite material.
“What they said, which was really unique, was give them a little CNC, give them a little composites, give them a little CAD because then we can move them around the manufacturing business,” Murley said businesses told him about entry level positions.
A board meets regularly to determine that the material taught in the class continues to remain current as the course goes forward.
Lewis said the program isn’t taking away opportunities for those unemployed, given that the offenders are trained for entry level positions, and not some of the higher level jobs.
Mike Hunley, one of the instructors of the program, said the way the class is presented helps contextualize the material in a way that makes it more accessible.
One of the offenders currently enrolled in the course, Jeffrey Senson, said it has provided him a goal to work toward while incarcerated. Once his time at Airway Heights ends in 2016, his plans include seeking further job training and additional school
“I wanted a goal to shoot for, for a long-term future and a career,” he said.
Swenson said it’s exciting to think that even some of the smaller parts of the course are right in line with industry standards, and something that NASA and other aeronautic entities are using right now. While the material has proven challenging, he said it’s well worth the effort.
“It’s been a real challenge for me, and required a little bit of patience. But I graduated with my GED this year, which is something I never thought was possible,” he said. “Everything is working out pretty well.”
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.