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Laid-Off Aerospace Workers Learn the Hazards of 'A' Word


Jack Voss is convinced that in today's job market the one word on a resume guaranteed to send employers scurrying in the other direction is aerospace.

Voss, a 55-year-old engineer with 30 years of experience, mailed out nearly 800 resumes, talked to two dozen headhunters, and elbowed his way through crowds at a dozen job fairs without getting a single offer.

"They get cold feet as soon as I say I'm from aerospace," he said bitterly.

In April, after pounding the pavement for nine months, he finally landed a job with a Thousand Oaks pharmaceutical company. But he still is reluctant to tell colleagues that he spent much of his career working for aerospace companies.

Gone are the days when the engineer or aerospace worker routinely had to fend off job offers. Job-hungry aerospace workers, laid off by the hundreds, have flooded the market, competing fiercely for now-you-see-them, now-you-don't aerospace and engineering jobs.

Aerospace engineers and technicians are having difficulty finding work because the defense industry has come to a "screeching halt," said Dwight Troutman, branch manager for TAD Technical Services, an executive search firm in El Segundo.

"There aren't any contracts floating around," he said. "Congress has been slashing the budget like crazy . . . and aerospace has not diversified."

Those who do not have top-notch skills, who do not have a degree, or who do not know the right people find themselves shut out of the aerospace market. They learn quickly the grim lessons of job-hunting during a recession.

"A cut in pay is almost guaranteed; you'll probably have to move," said Naseer Ahmed, an industrial engineer who was laid off from his job at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Long Beach.

Fellow industrial engineer M. Mubin Din added: "You may have to take a job you are overqualified for. You might have to quit aerospace, but no one else wants anyone who worked in aerospace."

TAD's Troutman said aerospace workers looking for jobs today have two choices: "Leave (the state) or change professions."

Many will turn to other fields, but like Voss, many will be turned away, told that their skills are too specialized, that they would be too hard to train. Frustrated, Voss decided to rewrite his resume to downplay his aerospace experience and highlight his work as a facility and plant engineer.

"Hospitals need buildings, universities need buildings. I can build and upgrade facilities for them," Voss said. He is now building a laboratory for the Thousand Oaks pharmaceutical company.

Troutman said he is scrutinizing applicants' resumes for any experience in other fields, including the petrochemical industry, environmental engineering or medical equipment design and manufacturing. All three fields are expanding and looking for employees, he said.

"People don't think aerospace employees are capable of handling other positions, but they are," said Albert Perez, an employment specialist who is working with the Cal State Long Beach Center for Career Studies and Douglas to find jobs for workers laid off.

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