Rocket Lab’s Electron blasts off from its New Zealand complex in May. The mission, dubbed “Running out of Toes,” was the company’s 20th launch. Photo by Andrew Taylor, courtesy of Rocket Lab.

Sixteen Long Beach Unified School District teachers toured the some of city’s aerospace manufacturing facilities earlier this month to kick off a partnership with the goal of developing a streamlined pathway for students from local schools to one day have careers in the growing industry.

In partnership with Pacific Gateway, the city’s workforce development network, the Space Beach Teacher Externship Program kicked off on Aug. 9 with a three-day workshop that took educators to the Boeing, Relativity Space, Rocket Lab, SpinLaunch and Virgin Orbit facilities in Long Beach.

“Through this collaboration, teachers are able to see how skills taught in the classroom are applied in real-world settings,” said LBUSD Assistant Director of Career Pathway Development Renee Shipman.

The teachers from Cabrillo, CAMS and Sato Academy high schools learned about aerospace manufacturing, rocket launch trends, work environments and the types of careers their students may want to pursue in the industry, according to a city announcement. They participated in workshops with industry leaders, discussed workforce needs within the sector and gained hands-on experience to help contextualize academic content.

The externship program cost the city $35,000 and was funded using Long Beach Recovery Act dollars, according to Pacific Gateway Special Projects Officer Eli Romero.

“Virgin Orbit is enthusiastic about the opportunity to … host educators at our Long Beach factory and for the chance to inspire the people who are inspiring the future of aerospace,” Johanna Kent, the company’s vice president of people and culture, said in an email.

The externship program is part of a space workforce initiative by Pacific Gateway to engage students, teachers and aerospace employers in work-based learning activities, including speaker series, field trips, competitions, mentorships, internships and, ultimately, long-term employment, according to the city.

Through this initial investment, the three schools will work with Pacific Gateway and the space companies to develop a “multi-disciplinary, cross-career academy project-based learning activity aligned with STEM and college-based standards” that will culminate in a STEM/aerospace conference next year.

The Space Beach program aligns with the city’s Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative by “eliminating social and economic disparities in communities most impacted by racism,” the city announcement states. The initiative also supports the city’s Strategic Plan for Youth and Emerging Adults by providing inclusive academic and job training.

In May, the Long Beach Department of Economic Development and Pacific Gateway received a $1.6 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The money will support the Space Beach program.

“There is so much talent in our own backyard,” Kent said, “and when we look at the capability and diversity of that talent, supporting the teachers who will support these students to strengthen the pathways into future employment for LBUSD students into entering a career in aerospace benefits us all.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.