COURTLAND, Alabama — Perla Chavez and Makayla Chambers took different paths to completing Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship Program (AMTAP) in Lawrence County.
Chavez is a recent high school graduate and “techie” who started taking part in robotics and rocketry competitions in middle school. Chambers was a full-time art student pursuing a graphic design degree who worked delivering pizzas.
Both, however, had a common goal – to find a rewarding career doing something they feel passionate about. They decided to learn how to build spacecraft components.
Earlier this month, they joined two other classmates at their AMTAP cohort graduation, ready to start working as full-time technicians at Lockheed Martin’s Courtland facility.
AMTAP apprentices learn how to build electronics used in space operations, including soldering, cable harness building and conformal coating application for electronic components. Participants receive pay and benefits as well as skill certification.
Successful graduates like Chavez and Chambers also have the opportunity to work full-time at Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed Martin’s AMTAP is a U.S. Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship. The program prepares candidates for careers in space operations in Courtland and Littleton, Colorado.
The head of the tech school where Chavez was studying drafting after graduating in June asked students if they would be interested in AMTAP.
“I had been on the rocketry team for my school for four years, so it tied into there, and because aerospace has always interested me. So, I decided to give it a shot,” she said.
Chavez, whose high school rocketry team was mainly made up of girls, says she’s been impressed by the support for and visibility of women in STEM careers at Lockheed Martin.
“When we took our first tour, one of the things I realized that there’s a really good balance between men and women.”
She would like to work on a Mars mission someday.
“I definitely see myself here for years to come, and I would love to be involved in the Orion program that’s going to take us back to the Moon and establish a gateway to Mars,” she said.
Chambers heard about the program from a friend who is a Lockheed Martin technician.
“I wanted to try something new,” she said. “With an art degree it can be difficult to find a good job, and with Lockheed Martin I knew I would have a lot of opportunities.”
AMTAP apprentices don’t need experience in the electronics field, but the program does look for people who have good eye-hand coordination and fine manual dexterity. As an artist and a pianist, Chambers made sure to emphasize her talents in those areas in her application and interview process.
Those skills were essential, especially during the cable-building segment of the six-week program. Like Chavez, Chambers called it the “most challenging and most rewarding” part of their training.
“I went in never having done that before and it was difficult, but I kept reminding myself that if I could continue to work hard and learn all the information, I would succeed and I did,” she said.
AMTAP was “intense, but it’s been very rewarding,” added Chambers, who is considering completing her art degree or even pursuing an aerospace engineering degree.
“What I’ve learned in AMTAP, I loved,” she said. “I’ve looked into the prerequisites, and a lot of the classes involve what I’m currently learning and will help me as a technician.”
Technical apprenticeship programs like AMTAP are part of Lockheed Martin’s enterprise-wide workforce development initiative. The initiative, begun in 2018, aims to create 8,000 work-based learning opportunities and to invest $50 million in educational programs by 2023 across the United States.
At the beginning of 2021, Lockheed Martin was well on its way to that goal, having created more than 5,300 new workforce development opportunities and invested nearly $7 million into its STEM and Vocational Scholarship Programs.
Lockheed Martin has a longstanding presence in Alabama. Its operations in Courtland and Huntsville serve as the flagship locations for the company’s hypersonic technology development, while its plant in Troy assembles key missile systems.
Lockheed Martin is a partner with Boeing in the United Launch Alliance joint venture, which operates the nation’s largest rocket factory in Decatur.