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Filling slots here is rocket science

It’s an increasingly rare sight these days, but Northrop Grumman Corp. has been putting out help-wanted signs all over town.

The huge defense contractor has flown sky banners with “Northrop Grumman is hiring” over Southland beaches and during a USC football game, has placed ads on company shuttle buses, and has even offered $100 plus a free dinner for potential hires to come check them out.

Despite perhaps the biggest pool of unemployed workers looking for jobs in decades, Northrop officials say they haven’t been able to fill the open positions.

This year it has hired 1,800 workers for its Integrated Systems division in Southern California but still has another 1,800 openings for engineers, machinists, mechanics and computer programmers.

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In a cruel twist for thousands of job-seekers, Northrop says a vast majority of the applicants -- the company gets 30,000 resumes a week -- don’t qualify. And many who do qualify already have good jobs with rivals who are doing all they can to keep them.

Century City-based Northrop is the nation’s third-largest defense contractor and the second-largest private employer in Southern California. In the last year or so it has won several major multi-billion-dollar government contracts.

Few qualify because many of the jobs require highly specialized or esoteric skills. Consider the latest opening at Northrop for a “cryogenic propellant management engineer.” If you need to ask what it is, then you probably don’t qualify. For most of us, it has something to do with really cold rocket fuel used for NASA’s lunar lander. The bottom line is that there aren’t many people who have any experience in the area of cryogenic propellants.

Adding to the hiring difficulty is that most of the jobs require that the employee have a government security clearance.

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“It’s a quandary for us,” said Emitte Scruggs, director of staffing for Northrop’s Integrated Systems sector. “Even when we do find someone, they can’t get the clearance. I know it sounds odd, but we’re having a tough time hiring.”

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peter.pae@latimes.com


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