YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Seven months before graduation, Alex Dimas toured aviation manufacturer GE Aviation Systems and applied for a job. Then, the company and his instructors at Perry Technical Institute worked with him to strengthen his skills until he graduated.
Three years later, he's still at the company, working as a machinist building hydraulic fuses for 737s.
"They gave me the confidence to know I can come in here and know what I'm doing," the 29-year-old married father of two said.
State and local officials say making that caliber of training available to young and laid-off workers is crucial to filling the available jobs, not just in Washington state, but nationally.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray calls it a deficit of infrastructure and innovation.
The Washington state Democrat is among members of Congress pushing the Workforce Investment Act, which is intended to help local communities bridge the gap between high school and post-secondary education and the work force.
During a tour of GE Aviation on Monday, Murray said she regularly hears from business owners who want to hire but can't find workers with the necessary skills. At the same time, she said, students often say that what they learn in school isn't relevant to the work they do in the workplace.
The result is open jobs, despite high unemployment, she said.
"That doesn't make sense to me. We have workers who want to work. We have businesses who want to hire," she said.
Unemployment figures are gradually improving, but there are still a high number of people who are out of work, said Patrick Baldoz, director of the Washington Workforce Association for Yakima, Kittitas, Klickitat, and Skamania counties.
The unemployment rate nationally tops 9 percent. The state's unemployment rate grew to 9.2 percent in June, up from 9.1 percent in May.
Meanwhile, agencies that are supposed to help are losing resources, Baldoz said.
He said his agency has lost close to 60 percent of its federal funds in the last six or seven years — money that was intended to help people find work and get retrained.
"The new legislation will update all these programs that serve unemployed workers, and hopefully, it will set provisions so that these programs will be adequately funded and help to get this economy moving again," he said.
GE Aviation builds commercial and military jet engines and components. The company employs 270 people in Yakima and expects to grow to 300 employees early next year.
The company has some of the best machinists and assembly workers in the industry, said Mark Sieber, plant leader for GE Aviation in Yakima. But, he added, "Our employees need to have sophisticated skills."