Difficult job hunt seen for laid-off workers Westinghouse offering help

February 04, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

Dawn Zeigler was preparing for her wedding when she learned that the Pentagon had canceled the Navy's A-12 stealth fighter.

A quality-assurance engineer at Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum for only 15 months, she knew her job might be at risk.

"I'd started working on my resume," Zeigler said.

On Friday, she learned that indeed she was one of 1,200 Westinghouse workers in Maryland whose jobs will be eliminated on Feb. 28.

Zeigler had helped supervise the production of detection systems that Westinghouse was producing for the Navy stealth program.

Now she plans to spend the next several weeks looking for work, taking advantage of the help Westinghouse is offering.

"I don't expect to be out of a job for long," she said.

But the job market now might be difficult, said Lisa Heiser, project director for Engineering Careers at the University of Maryland's Career Development Center.

"It's going to be a tough one," she said of the market.

Employers often prefer to hire engineers immediately after graduation when they can pay them less and train them for particular work. Currently, the job picture is good for chemical, petroleum and biomedical engineers. "For the other engineers, such as electric, mechanical, civil and aerospace, it's going to be a downturn this year," she said.

Cutbacks in the defense industry are reducing the demand for engineers in the Maryland and Washington area, she said.

John Stevens, senior vice president of Drake, Beam, Morin Inc., a job placement center, said the laid-off workers need to consider work in other areas of the country or with foreign companies interested in establishing business in the area.

"There does need to be some flexibility and an early identification of crossover skills that they are able to transfer from one job to another," he said.

Michael Hickey, president and owner of Hickey & Associates, a Columbia placement and career management company, agreed. "I think it's a difficult job market for anybody now. I think a lot of employers are laying back and waiting through this lull period."

But, he said, workers still "need to aggressively pursue it."

Martin, a Westinghouse spokesman, said the cuts range from hourly workers to non-exempt salaried workers and management. Martin would not give a breakdown of how many workers in each category are affected.

The terminations affect 720 workers in Linthicum and 480 employees at Hunt Valley.

Westinghouse had a contract to develop and produce airborne radar and infared night vision systems for the fighter aircraft. The company had delivered the first system last summer.

The work had been expected to total more than $3 billion over the decade.

U.S. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney announced Jan. 7 that the Defense Department was canceling the $57 billion A-12 program because its builders had so badly mismanaged the program that they could never meet the government's contract terms.

McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics, the primary contractors, denied the allegations. The companies had worked on the contract for three years.

An office has been set up in Woodlawn to help employees process benefit claims and find out about job openings. Martin said the company also would be contacting other local businesses and placing ads in the newspapers to help the employees find work.

Employees will also receive a severance package based on the number of years of service.

With about 16,000 workers in Maryland, Westinghouse is the state's largest private employer. The last layoffs were in 1985, when 500 workers lost their jobs, Martin said.

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