A large bus decked out in Manufacturing Week decor pulled up to Clark College’s campus at the Columbia Tech Center on Monday morning. As the bus unloaded, people clad in blue Association of Washington Business jackets crossed the parking lot, hustling 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 started in Olympia on Thursday and will be wrapping up in Yakima Oct. 13.
“We all know how hard it is to get workers, so this is one of the places that we’re trying to help that change,” said Carl Douglas, director at Clark College’s Center of Excellence for Semiconductor and Electronics Manufacturing.
Douglas proceeded to talk about the importance of Clark’s program and walked through the different types of training students go through.
“As we drive students through the program, and they take the full two-year mechatronic program, they will get paid more, they will get experience from internships and externships and programs like that,” said Douglas. “But in the end, they will learn ideas, they will learn functions, they will learn products to put everything together.”
The bus tour was on its third day as it rolled into Clark County, beginning at the college and then visiting Analog Devices in Camas before heading east to the Columbia River Gorge.
It’s the sixth year for the event, which also coincided with the nationwide MFG Day event.
The association estimates that 265,000 people work in manufacturing in Washington. And the state has a goal of doubling that number in the next 10 years.
“The No. 1 concern manufacturers share with us is their concerns about supply chain vibrancy — about having a healthy and strong supply chain, especially as they go through their seasonality of manufacturing,” said Kris Johnson, president at the association.
Johnson said about 13 percent of manufacturers are sourcing materials domestically, according to the association’s most recent survey.
“We’ve seen some early signs of reshoring taking place,” he said, adding reshoring doesn’t happen overnight.
Washington is the 10th highest producer of wafers in the country, said Johnson. “And all of that is 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 leaned in on solving workforce issues,” said Johnson. Discovery High School, the mechatronics program at Clark College, the internships and apprenticeships and so on were examples he gave.
Then, however, there’s power. With a doubling of manufacturing would come a doubling of energy needs.
“That means we need a lot more energy to come this way. And it’s got to be carbon free, it’s got to be reliable and it’s going to be affordable,” Johnson said.
Analog Devices is trying to stay ahead of the curve on its employment growth while trying to double its local output.
But there’s not enough local talent to fill the needed positions.
“That’s why we’re working with these schools on things like the apprentice program that we do through the college, because we hate stealing from other companies that are local,” said John Michael, general manager at the Analog Devices facility in Camas. “That just takes talent away if it’s already there, instead of refilling the pipeline.”
Michael pointed to the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act that was approved by Congress this summer, calling it critical to local workforce development.