Students in Washington state are on their way to becoming the next generation of aerospace manufacturers. Through a simple lesson in building carbon fiber composite clipboards using both wet layup and prepreg methods, the Introduction to Composites Fabrication and Manufacturing class at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash., learned the same basic processes used to fabricate an aerospace part. They understand designing, planning, layup techniques, curing, trimming, assembly and more.

Inspired by the state’s local aviation economy and aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which has a location in Seattle, teacher Larry DuFresne wanted to provide an opportunity for his students to get a head start on a promising career in aviation. Todd Beamer High School partnered with Advanced Composite Education Services (ACES) in Lakewood, Wash., which created the course and provides educational support to 20 schools in Washington, Alabama and Oregon. After three years of composites training in high school or an intensive one-year program at a technical center, students can earn a certificate and become employable upon graduation. Todd Beamer High School completed its first year of offering the course in June and will introduce a second-year composites manufacturing course in the fall.

“Composites manufacturing seems to be a growing field, and this class is an opportunity to get students started into something that I don’t think is going away,” says DuFresne. “Aerospace is a major manufacturer in our area, and if this can help kids get a foot in the door, that’s a plus.”

Students in DuFresne’s class as well as other classrooms around the country can help fill a void within the American workforce. “There is a skills gap in education and industry,” says Kevin Fochtman, vice president of ACES and owner of Pacific Coast Composites, a global distributor of advanced composites materials. Fochtman cites Boeing as an example, noting that 65 percent of the company’s employees will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. “This represents a lot of skilled labor in manufacturing in aerospace,” he says. For America to remain the global leader in manufacturing, Fochtman adds that it’s critical to include composites in engineering classes “because you can do things with composites that you can’t do with wood or metal.”

Two years ago, Puyallup High School in Puyallup, Wash., approached Fochtman to provide composites education for its students. In response, Pacific Coast Composites wrote the “Comprehensive Guide to Composites” to support the school’s Introduction to Engineering class. The company then created ACES and soon after began offering a standard course that encompasses science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) around composites fabrication manufacturing.