State-of-the-art transition center to help the displaced

BG&E OFFERS AID AS CUTS LOOM

November 09, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

It is the epitome of a modern, efficient office complex.

Housed in a boxy red brick and glass building, the 15,000 square feet of office space are spacious, well lighted and soothing. Beige walls are decorated with inspirational pictures highlighting such words as Courage, Success, Attitude and Effort. There are banks of computers, fax machines, copiers and about 100 telephones.

It has everything any office manager would want.

But this office complex is not for working. It's a place to find work.

It is the Career Transition Center for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which is gingerly approaching its first layoffs in its 177-year history.

Even though BG&E profits have been rising -- fueled by an unusually hot summer -- the company has embarked on a plan to cut $46 million from its operating expenses -- 7 percent of its costs. The cuts are aimed at getting the country's oldest utility into fighting trim to do battle in the increasingly competitive power business.

How many of BG&E's 9,200 workers will be laid off is unclear, since the number of early retirees has not been determined, and younger workers whose jobs are being cut can apply for spots being vacated.

Workers at the career center were told recently by a BG&E official that 1,100 positions will be cut. BG&E spokesman Arthur Slusark would neither confirm nor deny that number.

BG&E has set up an extensive job search and training operation. It has hired Drake Beam Morin Inc., the country's largest outplacement company, to coordinate the program and has rented space for its job center near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The center got its first clients this week as 200 displaced workers reported for the first steps in finding another job.

"What BG&E is concerned about is that their people have a soft landing as they leave the company," said William C. Hollett, group vice president for field operations for Drake Beam.

"It's an extremely attractive program," Mr. Hollett said. "This ranks right along with IBM."

The center offers the following:

* Office services and support, including desk space, nearly unrestricted telephone service (international calls have to be approved), telephone voice mail, mail boxes, fax machines, photocopiers and computer resources. The company will also foot the bill for mass mailings to prospective employers.

* Counselors who help prepare resumes and job search strategies. Counseling also includes testing to determine what job a person is best suited for.

* Workshops covering such topics as career decisions, job searches and starting your own business. The center also offers workshops on narrower subjects like investment opportunities.

* A video room for taping mock interviews to sharpen skills at impressing potential employers.

* Data bases of job openings along with a reference library of companies and organizations across the country.

BG&E is also paying for workers to take any educational course or training, as long as it is completed during the period the worker is in the placement program.

The center also has a psychologist available at least one hour each day and counselors are trained in dealing with personal problems. Spouses and children are welcomed to discuss job searching processes.

BG&E would not disclose how much it is paying for the job center but said it would take an $83 million charge over the next five years to pay for the job reductions.

Still, there is resentment among employees whose jobs have been targeted.

"Overall, I don't think it was the fair way to do it," said one electrician who showed up on Thursday at the center. He was particularly critical of the company's reliance on personnel assessment reports that he said were influenced by internal politics.

Like other workers who talked to a reporter, he requested that his name not be used because he feared it might jeopardize his chances of getting another job in the company.

An operator at a power plant also said the process of determining who is to be cut is flawed. While one supervisor might give his workers high ratings, others are more sparing. In his case, he had a supervisor who rarely gave an A rating.

"You had to walk on water to get an A," he said.

However, he said he was impressed by the company's placement program. "I never expected anything like this," he said. "It's unbelievable."

BG&E expects to have pinpointed all the jobs that are to be eliminated by the end of the year -- after the Dec. 15 deadline for the 1,400 workers eligible for early retirement to make their decision.

Affected workers have until Feb. 1 to decide whether they will take a voluntary severance plan or stay in the placement program to pursue another job either inside or outside the company.

Employees staying with the career center program will continue to receive their regular pay for periods ranging from 13 weeks for workers with less than five years' service to 52 weeks for those with 20 or more years. If they have not landed a new job by the time that money runs out, they will be terminated.

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