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Firm Advertises Skills Of Its Laid-Off Mass. Workers

A company closing a plant in Billerica this fall has taken an unusual step to help its more than 300 laid-off workers find new jobs.

The Florida-based electronics firm, Jabil, has taken out an ad in the Boston Globe encouraging employers to hire what Jabil calls its “exceptionally skilled and experienced” employees.

All 315 employees at Jabil Circuit’s Billerica plant were gathered and told that they would lose their jobs.

Telling the story in the parking lot on Monday, Ross Pascale, a business analyst at the plant, described the news as “a shock.” Pascale says he’s worked at the plant for almost nine years.

“From what I’m hearing from other people that have been laid off previously, it’s going to be tough to find work,” he said. “A lot of people out there looking for the same type of work.”

John Challenger is a Chicago consultant whose company helps displaced workers find new jobs. He says the tech sector has been hit very hard by the recession of late.

“The economic storm came in and hit banks and automotive companies and construction, housing,” he said. “But now it’s spread into other areas, and tech and maybe retail are two of the areas that have been hardest hit recently. January seemed to be worse — it looks like the cuts are accelerating.”

Challenger says nationwide, there were one-third as many cuts in the tech sector in January as there were in all of 2008. He says he doesn’t remember any company putting an ad out in the paper asking other companies to hire its employees before.

The Jabil plant in Billerica makes printed circuit boards for 10 to 15 different customers. One was Nortel, another company with a plant in Billerica that filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in January. As a result, between 60 days and six months from now, the workers at the Jabil plant will be laid off.

The closing of the factory is hitting Billerica hard, since it comes a month after the Nortel bankruptcy and Nortel employs more than 700 people in town. Bill Williams, Billerica’s town manager, calls it a clear sign that the tech jobs the town worked hard to attract are in danger.

“Some of the jobs that you’ve seen have been in quality areas that the Commonwealth and the town recruited — such as Nortel, Jabil — these were technical jobs, considered New Age jobs, something akin to life sciences that we wanted to be here. And having losses in those areas is pretty bad.”

Williams predicts that with the loss of revenues from the tech sector, residential property taxes in town may have to go up.

The ad Jabil put in the Globe on Monday “strongly recommends” that potential employers get in touch with the company. More than 80,000 people work for it. Around the world, including 10 locations in the U.S., the company is laying off 3,000 people.

Beth Walters, a spokeswoman for Jabil, says the company didn’t take out any ads in newspapers in other cities, because Billerica is the only place where a whole plant is being shut down.

“Without a lot of deep thought, it was not an easy call, and the reason we took out the ad in the paper was because of the genuine feelings that we wrote in the ad,” she said. “That this was very much a difficult decision, and one that we do with a heavy heart. These people have worked very, very hard — very diligently — doing everything they should do as employees to help drive the success of their business in their site. And through no fault of their own, we’ve got a world slowdown that’s causing some drastic measures in many spots around the world.”

Chris Manganis, who is among those about to lose his job at the plant, says the ad shows that the company cares about its employees.

“I think this plant has done a great job really trying to open up avenues for the employees,” he said. “It’s a tough time and everybody from our plant manager on down is facing the prospect of not having a job, so they’ve been great.”

Hopefully, it’ll all turn around in a few months, he says, and we’ll all land on our feet.

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