Meeting the challenge of change
Improving employability is key to job security in a cyclical industry
BY DEBBY ARKELL
It has been said that in life there are no guarantees. Yet for some, "job security" seems to mean "guaranteed employment for life." Perhaps this appears to be a fairly simple concept to put into practice, too employees who want to work, love their jobs and do them well should be able to keep them, right?
Turns out it's not quite as simple as that. Times have changed from the days of parents and grandparents who hired into and retired from the same company. Today, according to information from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years a worker has been with his or her current employer in the U.S. is 3.5 years. Apparently, the workforce as a whole moves around quite a bit.
In market-driven economies, when times are good, companies prosper and are flush with capital and jobs. But when times are bad, unemployment lines grow. These economic cycles aren't likely to change, and employers and business owners require flexibility to be able to adjust to gains and losses through productivity gains, creating partnerships to share risk, developing new markets and employment levels, and other aspects of the business.
Restraints on such flexibility to manage the bottom line have the potential to be catastrophic, forcing businesses to close their doors for good. "There's no question that we want to move away from dramatic swings in employment," said Alan Mulally, Commercial Airplanes president and CEO. "To do that we need to focus on our core competency. That is, designing, assembling, and integrating our airplanes with our services; sales and marketing; and managing our worldwide partners as a lean and agile global enterprise."
Barring a voluntary decision to change jobs or work for a different company, Boeing employees always will face a certain amount of risk when it comes to job security. What can employees do to minimize that risk? What does Boeing do to offer security to its employees?
Changes aren't permanent, but change is. "It's natural to resist change and the feelings of chaos and stress that come from it," said Penelope Livingston, a counselor with the Employee Assistance Program in Seattle. "Accepting the fact that change is inevitable will help employees when faced with issues threatening job security."
The key to strengthening job security in a cyclical industry is employability. Employability means more than just skills it's the attitude one brings to the job. Sometimes just having the right mindset can make all the difference. Employees willing to take on different assignments increase their marketability and develop a breadth of skills.
Further, employees who are willing to move to new positions laterally, or to other locations, naturally increase their opportunities to remain employed. Adopting an attitude to use a time of change as a new opportunity, opening up to the promise of new adventures, can make all the difference in keeping the paychecks coming in, according to Livingston.
But it's not always that simple. For many people, circumstances are complicated, and it's not an option just to move from, say, Everett to Wichita to take a new job. So what else can employees do to remain competitive right where they are?
Continuous, lifelong learning is a crucial element to maintaining employability.
In 1998 Boeing established the Learning Together Program. Learning Together is a part of Boeing's ongoing effort to encourage all employees to pursue education throughout their career, and it is part of the company's fundamental belief in the value of education. A workforce of skilled employees engaged in lifelong learning is critical to achieving The Boeing Company's vision: People working together as a global enterprise for aerospace leadership.
"Learning is the key to success, both for individuals and for the company," said then-Boeing President Harry Stonecipher at the time the program was established. "We encourage all employees to take advantage of this program, regardless of whether they want to take a few classes to keep their skills fresh or pursue an advanced degree."
The Learning Together Program reimburses employees for tuition paid and offers rewards to employees who earn college degrees, if courses are taken at an accredited institution and all guidelines are met.
For those not interested in pursuing a college degree, a wide variety of training is offered by Boeing's Learning, Education and Development organization. LEAD is a division of Shared Services Group. It offers specialized curricula and services, development opportunities and certification programs for Boeing employees. Courses can be taken through the Boeing Education Network and through Boeing Learning Centers. Myriad ways are available for employees to help take advantage of what LEAD has to offer: Classes are online, in classroom settings, and both during and outside work hours. There are videos, CD-ROMs, books, and a host of other types of materials available to employees to develop their skills.
In addition to Boeing's commitment to developing the talents of its workforce, Boeing has partnered with its two largest unions the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace to offer additional resources to employees who pursue personal and career development.
The Quality Through Training Program, one of two IAM-Boeing joint programs, offers services to IAM-represented employees. "We offer job-skills training, enhancing critical skills, and career counseling to pursue personal goals and career development," said Pat Parmley, Quality Through Training Program co-director.
Established in October 1989 by Boeing and the IAM, the Quality Through Training Program helps train or retrain employees affected by employment fluctuations, improvements to systems or technologies, job combinations and subcontracting. Skills centers also offer shop-specific industrial skills training to manufacturing employees.
"Our motto is 'meeting the challenge of change.' All the services we provide are geared toward helping employees be successful in their careers, whether it's here at Boeing or elsewhere," Parmley said.
Education assistance funding, reemployment training, career counseling, job-skills training and computer classes are just a few of the services provided by the Quality Through Training Program.
Engineers and technical employees also have a resource at their disposal. The Ed Wells Initiative, a joint program of Boeing and SPEEA, was established in 1995 to define jointly ways to improve and make the most of an employee's skills and interests.
The Ed Wells Initiative offers SPEEA-represented and other employees companywide education, training and career development services, employee utilization programs, and knowledge-sharing resources.
"Our mission is to improve technical excellence at Boeing continuously by providing opportunities to employees for enhanced education and training, skill utilization and career development," said Pam Eakins, Boeing co-director of the Ed Wells Initiative. "We believe that employees who take advantage of these offerings develop personally and find more meaningful application of their skills."
The Ed Wells Initiative offers a variety of programs and tools. A mentorship program provides resources and a structure for those wanting to establish a comprehensive and guided approach to mentoring. The Career Vector journal offers career advice, as do Career Navigators employees trained by the Initiative to share career-related information with others. Learning opportunities help employees improve their skills; they also assist managers in matching employee skills and abilities with appropriate and challenging work.
"Many of the resources are available on the Ed Wells Initiative Web site to anyone with a desire to move forward in their career," Eakins said.
If worse comes to worst ...
Unfortunately, when it comes to a cyclical industry such as the aerospace industry, even the most flexible, well-educated employee with the broadest skills can end up with a 60-day notice in hand.
Boeing provides employees with a comprehensive Web site to help find advertised job openings within the company. Called the Boeing Enterprise Staffing System (formerly Jobs@Boeing), this Web site allows employees to search open positions through a wide variety of criteria such as location, operating group, job title and more. Employees may also register sought-after criteria with the Job Seeker tool on the same Web site; when jobs are posted matching the criteria, employees receive an e-mail notification about the posting. Resumes may be stored and submitted online in the system as well.
If the search for employment within Boeing doesn't provide results, or if an employee simply wants to make a fresh start, the Career Transition Center is the place to go.
Boeing established Career Transition Centers in 1990 to help displaced employees train for and find jobs. Boeing, its unions, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and the U.S. Department of Labor initially developed the concept, and Boeing has continued to fund these centers to help employees. Career Transition Centers (CTCs) are a part of Shared Services Group, and they offer free, one-stop support and services to help employees mainly in the Puget Sound area find jobs.
"The CTCs offer briefings, assessments, counseling, job-search assistance, workshops, resume-writing help, and more," said Bud Fishback, CTC manager. "The centers also have experienced counselors on hand who are available to help employees identify skills and interests if they are changing direction in their careers."
In just the past eight months, the Career Transition Centers have provided layoff briefings to more than 9,000 employees, counseled nearly 3,400 employees and hosted workshops attended by more than 4,500 people.
The Quality Through Training Program and the Ed Wells Initiative offer similar services to employees facing layoff, and they actively partner with the CTC, government agencies and educational institutions.
In work, as in life, there are no guarantees. Many factors that come into play are out of anyone's immediate control: seniority issues, job combinations, outsourcing, 'bumping' rights, the global economy and competitiveness. But when it comes down to it, Boeing and its unions are working hard, and working together, to offer employees the choices, tools and resources to turn changes into new opportunities.
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