Boeing Backs Museum to Help WA Keep up with Job Demand

Boeing’s home state of Washington has a strong science and tech workforce, and the company wants to keep it that way. A combined $30 million donation from the company and the family behind it seeks to boost education through the Museum of Flight. 

Boeing is one of the world’s largest airplane manufacturers, and times have been pretty good for them lately, with the company earning record revenue of $90.8 billion in 2014. Boeing also has a decent-sized corporate giving program, totaling $188 million in that year. As you might expect, STEM education is a big priority for the company’s giving, and its latest big donation is all about prepping the next generation of workers who may just end up working at the company’s plants. 

The company and the Boeing family each gave $15 million to the Museum of Flight to fund a variety of programs, with a strong emphasis on education. The corporation’s $15 million will create a Boeing Academy for STEM Learning at the Seattle museum. The academy will develop more formal education programs, planning to serve 5,000 by 2019, half of whom will be women, students or color, or students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program will offer more than educational exhibits, aiming to have participants put in 90 hours each to land course credit for high school or college.  

The $15 million from the Boeing family will support a variety of exhibits and other costs, and the two gifts combined will fund everything from professional development, to a school that prepares future private pilots. This is the biggest such STEM grant from Boeing in a while. The company gave $30 million to the Smithsonian Institute in 2014, to overhaul the main exhibit hall at the National Air and Space Museum for the first time since it opened in the 1970s.

Related: Wow, Boeing's Pockets Are Pretty Deep. Just Ask the Smithsonian 

Like so many of these STEM grants, this backing from Boeing is all about grooming the future workforce. At the announcement, the company CEO cited 45,000 jobs the company estimates could go unfilled in the region. Boeing was founded in Seattle in 1916, and although its headquarters moved to Chicago in 2001, the company employs more than 80,000 in Washington State. That’s about half the company’s workforce, making it the state’s largest employer.

In part because of Boeing, Washington employs the highest percentage of STEM employees per capita in the country, according to one recent study. But that same study found that Washington ranks low nationally in terms of number of people earning bachelor’s degrees. This basically means they’ve been importing talent and not keeping up with their own economy’s demand.  

Boeing is among a number of companies using their corporate philanthropy to try to improve the preparedness of their future workforces. In fact, many such STEM grants are explicitly designed to connect young people to work for the donor company. 

Boeing itself is implementing some such programs at local school districts in the region, hiring participants right out of school. And the Museum of Flight is closely intertwined with the company, right by the airport and the company's Seattle campus. The museum's new program will offer an interesting combination of a museum's usual role of getting kids interested in science, with actually enrolling them in courses, all in the shadow of some Washington-made 747s.