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Easing the pain of a shutdown

Company is called a model as it helps laid-off workers find jobs

By Robert Gavin
Globe Staff / August 28, 2009

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BILLERICA - Paul Mitchell had been laid off before, and in most cases, he said, it went like this:

“Here’s your check. Here’s the number of the unemployment office. See you later.’’

But since his employer of 10 years, Jabil Circuit Inc., said earlier this year that it was shutting its plant here and laying off more than 300 workers, Mitchell has had a far different experience. He has had access to a state career center set up at the plant. He has polished his resume with computers and printers donated by Jabil. He has gotten advice from counselors staffing the Jabil center.

And yesterday, dressed in a gray pinstripe suit usually reserved for weddings and funerals, Mitchell, 59, interviewed with Raytheon Corp., which sent 14 recruiters to the Jabil career center as it tries to fill up to 50 skilled manufacturing jobs.

“I’m hoping,’’ said Mitchell, who has worked as a solderer, inspector, and packer of circuit boards. “I’m no good at hanging around. I want to work.’’

Jabil, labor officials say, is a model for employers dealing with plant shutdowns and mass layoffs, demonstrating how they can partner with the state and other employers to help their workers.

Jabil earlier this year gained national attention when it advertised its plant closing and urged other companies to hire its “exceptionally skilled and experienced workers.’’

It has continued to follow through, working with the state to match its workers to training programs, and to job openings. The recruiting session with Raytheon was the latest example, state officials said.

“When we first heard of the Jabil closure, we did not know that a new standard for assisting laid-off workers would be set,’’ said Suzanne Bump, the state’s secretary of Labor and Workforce Development. “Yesterday’s event created a model closure and recruitment effort that we would like to see replicated where job losses could be offset by this kind of creative collaboration.’’

Jabil, a global manufacturing services company based in St. Petersburg, Fla., cited the deep recession when it said in February that the plant would close by this fall. Most of the workers have been laid off; about 30 remain.

Jabil began working with the state even before it revealed the plant closing, to make sure its workers could take advantage of a variety of state programs. It invited the state to set up the emergency career center at the plants, donating space and equipment.

Bill Frake, the plant manager, said he could not estimate how much the company has spent to support the center. “We haven’t even added it up because it was not the important thing,’’ he said.

The important thing, of course, was finding people jobs. And in this case, the state Division of Career Services was able to serve as matchmaker.

Raytheon, growing because of a resurgence in its Patriot missile program, needed skilled manufacturing workers fast.

The electronics manufacturing done at Jabil was similar to what is done at Raytheon. The Jabil plant, in fact, had done contract work for the Waltham defense giant.

And many of Jabil’s employees had worked at the company in the past, some on Patriot missiles.

Mitchell is one of them. So is Ed Floria, 56, of Fitchburg.

Floria worked 19 years at Raytheon before he was laid off in 2002, during the last recession.

In his 50s, without a college degree, Floria admitted he has worried about what he will do as he tries to make it to retirement.

“This is a blessing,’’ he said after his interview. “It was a shock when they made the announcement. But they’ve been very good to us.’’

Other workers agreed. They said the onsite career center has made it easier to look for work: There are no lines for computers, as there can be at busy state career centers.

In addition, it’s a comfortable, supportive atmosphere in which they see friends and colleagues.

Linda Steer, 49, worked at Jabil for seven years. She, too, admitted to worrying. But yesterday, sitting at a table with a half-dozen friends before her interview, she said she felt better.

“It has something to do with Raytheon needing people,’’ she said.

Michele Lemos, a Raytheon spokeswoman, said the recruiting session made perfect sense.

“We’re on the upswing,’’ she said, “and it’s a great opportunity to have a set of people who you know have the skills you’re looking for.’’

Ken Messina, director of the state’s Rapid Response team, which provides services to employees affected by plant closings and mass layoffs, said the partnership between Jabil, Raytheon, and the state shows how to “take a bad situation and turn it around to make it a good situation.’’

Frake, the plant manager, said Jabil’s efforts were the least it could do to help workers he described as “the best of the best.’’

“They dedicated years of their lives,’’ he said. “I don’t think you just say, ‘Thank you, here’s your check,’ especially in this economy.’’

Robert Gavin can be reached at rgavin@globe.com.