BILLERICA, Mass. More than 300 workers at the Billerica circuit-board plant Jabil Circuit are losing their jobs by late summer — most of them by July 1. When the company announced the closure in February, it took out a half-page ad in the Boston Globe praising the workers about to lose their jobs, and asking other companies to hire them. The unusual strategy appears to be paying off for some of the workers.
When Jabil Circuit decided to close earlier this year, it sought help from the state’s rapid response team. Ken Messina leads the team. It’s his job to help workers about to lose their jobs find new ones. If a company asks, Messina goes in to set up an emergency assistance center right in the plant. Messina said he’d like to see more companies avail themselves of this opportunity.
“We haven’t seen one of these in a long time,” Messina said. “They’ve opened the doors to us.”
Messina says most companies are embarrassed that they have to lay people off, so they just don’t call him. He says this plant has gone way above the norm.
With layoffs adding up all over the state, this is a busy time for Messina and the Rapid Response Team.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years and I can say that the number of companies we’re seeing now well surpasses what we’ve seen in the past,” Messina said.
Jabil is so happy with Messina’s work that the company has asked Massachusetts if the state might be able to provide assistance in other states where Jabil is laying people off.
On a recent Friday, Messina brings a recruiter from Raytheon to the factory. Jabil invites iRobot and three other companies. For two hours, the closing factory holds its own little job fair.
Peter Civitarese, a program manager at Jabil, hit up the representative from Raytheon.
“It’s a place that I would like to work at,” Civitarese said. “It’s also a place that’s done a lot of hiring from here. We’ve got four, five engineers at least who have gone over there, a couple of quality people have gone over there, so not only is it an interesting place to work at, but they’re hiring, which is key right now.”
Civitarese has worked at Jabil for 10 years. He is the husband of the plant’s HR manager, who is also losing her job. They live in Tewskbury with their three young children, three-year-old twins and a two-year-old boy.
Civitarese is finding that it’s the defense contractors that have the jobs: companies such as Raytheon and BAE Systems, the largest private employer in New Hampshire, with a huge plant in Nashua. Civitarese is optimistic about his colleagues’ prospects.
“People are finding jobs out there,” Civitarese said. “It might take a little longer than most people like, but most people I know that are putting in a concerted effort into getting a job are finding jobs or at least getting good leads. It seems like it’s picking up more and more, too.”
Among the defense contractors who have come to hire is HBM, in Marlborough. When the company’s human resources manager, Lisa Hubbard, heard about the job fair, she called and called until she got an invitation. HBM manufacturers custom sensors and software for aircraft. The sensor business is picking up. And HBM has just bought two companies in Wisconsin and Illinois, one of which makes sensors and software for tanks.
“You put it on a tank,” Hubbard said. “You take a tank out and you run it around, and it shows you when the different parts of the tank are going to fail, so that when they go overseas to be in use, you can figure out when that maintenance needs to occur so that your tank doesn’t fail in the middle of the battle. That’s a lay person’s description,” he laughed.
HBM is moving the manufacturing from Wisconsin and Illinois to Marlborough.
“So we have to build from scratch an electronics facility within our existing building”, Hubbard said. “So we have to hire, recruit, train, build the right space to house this new manufacturing, and so we’ll be up and ready by the end of the year.”
Hubbard says she needs six people right now, and 10 to 15 by the end of the year.
“We’re looking for service technicians”, Hubbard said. “Manufacturing engineers. I’m going to need more help in finance. I need an accountant, possibly a controller, a supply-chain person, a buyer, and I also need an import-export person who’s accustomed to dealing with electronics import-export.”
The recruiters couldn’t have come soon enough. Peter Civitarese is one of the handful of employees who are staying on until the plant closes in September.
“When you’re first told this,” Civitarese said “it seems like it’s forever away, but it’s coming quick right now.”
Civitarese has more time to find a job than most of his colleagues at the plant, who will be laid off on July 1. They line up clutching manila folders containing their resumes as they wait to talk to one of the recruiters.