A large bus decked out in Manufacturing Week decor pulled up to Clark College’s Columbia Tech Center campus Monday morning. As the bus unloaded, people wearing blue Washington Business Association jackets crossed the parking lot, looking for their chance to tour the school’s mechatronics lab.
The mechatronics lab presentation was part of the association’s Manufacturing Week bus tour, which began in Olympia on Thursday and will conclude in Yakima on Oct. 13.
“We all know how hard it is to find workers, so this is one of the places we’re trying to help make that change,” said Carl Douglas, director of Clark College’s Center of Excellence for Semiconductor and Electronics Manufacturing.
Douglas went on to talk about the importance of Clark’s program and went over the different types of training students go through.
“As we get students going through the program and they take the full two-year mechatronics program, they’ll get paid more, gain experience from internships and externships and programs like that,” Douglas said. “But ultimately they’re going to learn ideas, they’re going to learn features, they’re going to learn products to bring it all together.”
The bus tour was in its third day as it rolled through Clark County, starting at the college and then visiting Analog Devices in Camas before heading east to the Columbia River Gorge.
The event is in its sixth year, which also coincided with national MFG Day.
The association estimates that 265,000 people work in manufacturing in Washington. And the state aims to double that number in the next 10 years.
“The main concern that manufacturers share with us is their concern about supply chain vitality — about having a healthy and strong supply chain, especially as they go through their seasonal production,” said Chris Johnson, president of the association.
Johnson said about 13 percent of manufacturers sourced materials domestically, according to the association’s latest survey.
“We’ve seen some early signs of a restoration taking place,” he said, adding that the restoration doesn’t happen overnight.
Washington is the 10th largest producer of waffles in the country, Johnson said. “And it’s all located right here in Clark County.”
But to maintain that semiconductor supply chain, Johnson pointed to two things: people and power.
“Clark County has really moved toward solving workforce issues,” Johnson said. Discovery High School, the mechatronics program at Clark College, internships and apprenticeships and so on were examples he gave.
But then there is power. With a doubling of production will come a doubling of energy needs.
“That means we need a lot more energy to get that way. And it has to be carbon-free, it has to be reliable and it’s going to be affordable,” Johnson said.
Analog Devices is trying to stay ahead of the curve on employment growth while trying to double its domestic manufacturing.
But there is not enough local talent to fill the necessary positions.
“That’s why we work with these schools on things like the apprentice program that we do at the college, because we hate to steal from other companies that are local,” said John Michael, general manager of Analog Devices’ Camas facility. “It’s just taking away the talent if it’s already there, rather than reloading the pipeline.”
Michael pointed to the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act, which was approved by Congress this summer, as critical to local workforce development.