Retraining for What? It Got Him Nowhere : A laid-off aerospace project engineer laments conditions in the area that seem stagnant. He says preparing for transition to crowded fields will not solve the problems of the jobless.

<i> Victor Craft lives in Chatsworth</i>

In May, 1993, I received my layoff notice from the Northrop Aircraft Division.

Since then I have shared in an important moment in history, the downsizing of the U.S. defense industry and subsequent retraining of its work force. As a result of my retraining, I am no longer an unemployed aerospace project manager. Instead, I am an unemployed environmental auditor.

Northrop, like other large firms, has specialists to help its laid-off employees find employment in the company or elsewhere. They have phones, fax machines, periodicals from all over the country and representatives from area industry councils--just about anything you would think you might need to find a job.

The company gave us seminars on preparing resumes, being interviewed and dressing appropriately. We were informed of training available under the federal Job Training Partnership Act. An individual finds a new field, sees what training is available, submits an application for funding and, if approved, completes the program. Many programs offer job search assistance afterward.


I collected unemployment insurance for a month while seeking a job in my old field. Then I looked into others.


One was environmental technology. My thinking was that since every military base closing required that the site be left clean, I might find a firm that could use my aerospace experience coupled with what I could learn through a government-sponsored course.

I studied environmental technology last year at Cal State Long Beach. I received my certificate of completion in January.

Throughout the course, I continued to pump out resumes and cover letters in the formats that I had learned about. Sometimes I was told no. Sometimes I was told nothing.

Through networking, I got interviews with a few personnel staffers in my new field. They say my lack of success is not because of a lack of qualifications on my part--there just isn’t any work.

Since the Northridge earthquake, I have had to move, not just because our place was destroyed but because our savings had run out and we needed a cheaper place to live.


Infrequent and short-lived jobs have allowed us to pay the rent and keep the car. We also know the true meaning of friendship.

But when does it end? When and where will the next boom occur?

A troubling thought came to me: What if this is as good as it gets for a long time?

I’m 45. My savings are gone. There probably won’t be another aerospace boom. Ever.

What do I do? What can I do?

During my job search, I couldn’t help remembering the speech our CEO gave at the last management club meeting before our facility closed down. He said a lot of government defense work would still be coming our way. He had all the charts to prove it, too.

Most of us in the room couldn’t help but question this man’s grasp of reality. Didn’t he read the newspapers? Didn’t he watch the news? Didn’t he know the Cold War was over?


I keep hearing such buzzwords as retraining and transition .

Retraining for what? Transition to what?

My experience was not unique.

Northrop says it is placing 75% to 80% of its laid-off personnel. But it also reports that those who entered environmental technology are having the same experience that I am. It appears the optimistic studies of a year or more ago that attracted many of us into the field were wrong.

My one retraining experience is all the government will pay for. I had one shot, and it didn’t work.

The current mayor of Los Angeles started to do something positive about the growing unemployment problem. He gathered a number of prominent people to advise him. That was reported in The Times in November. Granted, the earthquake took attention away from unemployment, but it appears that many folks expected construction during recovery to provide an economic spark.


That is not long term. Construction is not cutting-edge technology.

We still need a direction. We need to understand that until we have clear goals, we are going to continue wandering.

I am not complaining. But it would appear that until we can collectively get our acts together, we can expect more unemployment, the continued decay of the income-tax base, more people spending public money for more training for crowded fields.

What we are currently doing is not working. Job retraining is not always the answer. Construction is not the answer.

I learned long ago that if what you are doing is not working, then do something different.