"We no longer have a job for you here, John!"

These words were among the first I heard that beautiful, sunny Monday morning in July 1977, when I arrived at work. Harsh? Cruel? Disheartening? Yes! Surprising? No, let me explain. The Michigan-based company where I worked had been designing and developing a new product in partnership with a customer and much larger manufacturer for months, and we were poised to launch production “Job One.” I had been an employee and the Senior Project Engineer on the development team for the previous 5 years, and because of the unique and unusual joint partnership arrangement, our customer would now own the knowledge that could let them go on to make newer and better products at their own factory – without our help. What was worse, our patents would expire in a few months, and the customer would be free to do its own thing without having to pay us royalties.

Actually, my first stop that morning was at the prototype development lab to learn the results of a test that I had conducted over the weekend. On my way there, a technician announced, “John, Sharon in Personnel is looking for you.” I figured I had better see what was up. Maybe one of my engineers was quitting, or I had to go to one of those infernal

Policy and Procedures meetings again.

As I approached the Personnel office, I found the Manager and my boss, the Chief Engineer, waiting for me. I sat down, and my boss immediately said, “We no longer have a job for you here, John.” (Not even an, “I’m sorry!”) Without hesitation, I replied, “Well...thank you, Bill. At least, I’m satisfied that I have done an outstanding and fantastic job here over the past five years, and I will be looking forward to new, better, and more challenging assignments with another employer. Thank you for the opportunity to work with a fine company and an awesome team of engineers. I hope it happens for me again, soon.”

I left them sitting there, with their mouths wide open, and a shocked and surprised expression on their faces. That was not the response they expected! Not even close.

Here is what they did not know: I discovered that our patents were expiring in a few months, and I observed that the division president and his “aids” were not planning to develop new products to fill the void after our current customers would design, develop, and manufacture these same things on their own. In addition, because my employer depended heavily on government contracts that were becoming scarce, I expected the people who could not be relocated to another division would be laid off. I figured that I could be one of them. So, in the previous months, I looked for another job, and secured one at a brilliant, new company in Cleveland. Ironically, that same Monday morning, my second stop was to be at the Personnel Office to turn in my resignation! I had already sold my house and purchased a new one in Ohio. Hence, my coolness when they fired me! Thanks, Bill.

So, what is your story? Were you prepared when a similar situation hit you? Are you prepared to be laid off? Should you be concerned? Think about it. If you are not the CEO, your job is almost sure to go to China, India, or some other country before 2020.

PS. I got $4400.00 in severance pay (then the price of a new 1977 Pontiac), and the entire global corporation I left was purchased by another company: It finally diminished to a shadow of what it once was.

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Comment by Gerald Pellett on July 3, 2010 at 11:36am
It has happened to me, too. I've learned to prepare. I paid off all bills, including my mortgage, and put money into savings while I still had a job. I've tried to build a network of associates so we can help each other stay employed. I've looked for emerging technologies that can offer future opportunities, and I've tried to learn all I can about them. I take online and traditional college level classes, and I build stuff and experiment so I can learn how it all really works. Currently I am helping start up a new company so hopefully I'll have more control over my future.
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on May 28, 2010 at 6:20am
Hasan, it's spelled out in the fourth paragraph of the original post ("Here's what they did not know...")
It's really not that herd to determine the 'health' of the company you're working for, if you keep your eyes open. The details vary from place to place, but once there's a shift away from 'growth' (New customers, new product lines, new equipment), it's a strong indicator that things are going to take a turn for the worse.

Businesses are supposed to expand to stay healthy, there can be a pause, or even a small contraction to prepare for the next expansion, but the plans, the meetings will be focused on the 'big bush' that will come once the resources are in place from the contraction.

I was caught flat-footed with the first store closing when I worked at Elec-Tek, but then again, I had literally just walked in to the door and finished training. All the signs I had seen had pointed to growth, there were new hires (me), and a shrinking company does not take on more manpower. With the 'slow death' of the second store and my impending layoff, the writing was on the wall for months before it happened, and it was only the poor job market at the time that kept me from having a job waiting when I was let go.
Comment by Hasan Small on May 27, 2010 at 6:37pm
I am amazed at the way you dealt with the situation. What are the signs you normally look for when this happens?
Comment by Rommel Edwards on May 25, 2010 at 5:04pm
That was cool, I wish I had that attitude, They had to pull my fingernails out of the tile floor to get me pushed out the door of my last job.. I'm still growing new ones... I am self employed now ans learning all new survial skills.
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on May 25, 2010 at 10:46am
Oh you already started another blog on this topic, I'll go check it out.
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on May 25, 2010 at 10:44am
That's an interesting point you bring up, Stewart, perhaps we should start a new thread to get a debate going on the burden and possible solutions. I'd love to hear how others feel about the Ethical Aspects of Engineering, to steal the course title from my old senior year Humanities class.
Comment by Stewart Bowland on May 25, 2010 at 10:26am
Andrew,

My concern is not for people who have the ability to "re-engineer" themselves. I'm more concerned about the growing numbers of people who, for whatever reason, have not or can not upgrade their skillset and find new employment further up the food chain. It won't matter how good we as engineering professionals have it if society as a whole gets left behind. The burden to our economies will be huge.Delete Comment
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on May 25, 2010 at 9:52am
Stewart, technology does not lead to permanent unemployment, for every job technology 'eliminates' it creates 3 new jobs, one to run the technology, one to repair the technology, and one to teach how the technology works.

The only people who should 'fear' technological unemployment are those who are unwilling to learn the new systems.

Technology has even created new jobs out of whole cloth. Before computers became part of the homes, there was no need for 'game programmers,' now, with the 7th generation home gaming consoles, there is a constant need for programmers, graphic artists, debuggers, 3d modelers. Yes, most of those fields are currently underpaid for the work they do, but the market is still relatively young.

The point I'm trying to make is: technology does not destroy jobs, it changes jobs.
Comment by Stewart Bowland on May 25, 2010 at 9:40am
How will our economies (I live in Canada) survive when so many people are going to be out of work due to permanent technological unemployment?
Comment by Andrew Dreasler on May 25, 2010 at 8:47am
I think my most surprising layoff was after i had left the military and was pursuing my Bachelor's degree. I had just left a position with a 'Big Red' office supply superstore (I won't name names here) for a position in the computer repair and upgrade department of a little chain called Elec-Tek, based in and around the Chicagoland area. I got along well with the other techs, It felt like a dream job. The second day there the manager called a store meeting to say that the purchase of Elec-Tec by Creative Computers had been finalized, and they had released the list of stores that would be closing. We were not on the list, so we were going to stay. I thought that was interesting trivia, since I had dealt with Creative Computers in the past to get upgrades for my old Commodore Amiga computer, but beyond that, it seemed like nothing that important, and the rest of the week finished uneventfully.

My second week started with me being scheduled to open the repair department on Monday, it was exciting, my eighth day on the job and I was already trusted to open the department on my own. After getting the computers up and running, and making sure there were enough repair check-in forms to handle the morning, I heard the store manager calling another store meeting. This time the message was 'we're closing the store, we'll need everyone to help pack up the merchandise.' That week was spent packing the store up, with people being called into the manager's office to discuss relocation to other stores. Apparently the 'relocation offers,' were intended to allow the company to lay people off without technically laying them off, as everyone was being given one choice of location with the option to take that position or to resign from the company, and most of the locations were targeted to be the most inconvenient for that employee. Since the 'repair department guys' were working as one team in the packaging, we naturally were comparing notes on the relocation offers, and there was one guy who was being offered a slot in the downtown store, while I was offered a job in the western suburbs. Both positions were inconvenient to the person offered to, since I had no vehicle, and he did not want to drive into the congested heart of the city every day. However, he lived in the western suburbs, near the store I was offered, and I had easy access to the Chicago 'L' train, which would take me right to the downtown location without hassle. We then went to the store manager and asked if we could switch assignments, providing evidence that it would by beneficial to both of us. In hindsight, I believe he was instructed to not allow swaps, but since he was being fired no matter what, he signed the paperwork to change our assignments.

While at the downtown store, I watched as the store relocated from the second floor of an office building, the ENTIRE second floor, mind you, with the store name wrapped around three sides of the building, to a small location off a glorified alley behind the Chicago Board of Trade. The regulations on the Repair department were also changing, we were no longer allowed to take in 'third party' computers for repair, then we were no longer to take in anything for repair, we could only do installation of products purchased from Elec-Tek. More and more work was being turned away from us, so I was fully expecting the message that I was laid off, I just didn't know exactly when it would happen.

Unfortunately, the leads I had been following were not bearing fruit, so when the axe fell, I was left with collecting my unemployment checks while trying to jobhunt in an unfriendly market, so soon after the dot-com bust.

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