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I worked at L-3 Cincinnati Electronics
Pros – Good benefits, insurance, 401k matching, ESPP, 11 paid holidays per year, 9/80 work week (1 friday off every two weeks). All of those things were nice, though common in huge enterprises such as L-3. Salary seemed competitive. Overtime was permitted for salaried workers at standard rates, no time-and-a-half unless you were hourly.
Cons – The aerospace and defense industry is populated by a wave of baby boomers and half of the work force ought to be retired by now. Theoretically when they do it will create a talent vacuum that will propel up-and-comers up the ladder, but that remains to be seen. The down side was that everyone operated like it was 1984. It was a paper society, and there were three forms to fill out to use the bathroom. There were procedures documented for everything and it took two weeks to get anything done that was not purely autonomous. Everyone's desk was covered in stacks of papers that had been there so long they should have been shredded a year ago.
There was an intercom system that was always in use and it was everywhere in the facility. So if Mary-Sue needed to find Jim-Bob from the production line then you got to hear about it. There were about 600 people there and they were always trying to find each other. You couldn't concentrate worth a darn because of all the interruptions.
Beware the hallway meetings. You would walk past a colleague and next you would be trapped in a conversation about the latest status update for some project or problem. Often these conversations drifted into other subjects too, and you could walk away with three unwritten action items. You had to try and conclude quickly or you'd stand there for 30 minutes and forget about what you were trying to do in the first place.
No one did design work except the grunts and the co-op students. Sometimes the design work was outsourced. The engineers were just administrators and project managers, with little opportunity to design, which is what engineers should be doing. This made them less competitive, unemployable elsewhere, and helped retention.
There was a time card system that reduced you to an hourly wage slave. You had to enter the projects you worked on for the week and the hours worked, and it had to be a full day's worth of hours. If you checked email, you billed that time to a project. Most companies assume only 6 hours of work get done in a day, besides water cooler, bathroom, email, etc. This company assumed a full day was spent in furious activity on the government's behalf and wanted it documented.
If you didn't enter a full day's hours on the time card, you wouldn't get paid for a full day's work that day. This is why you were reduced from a salaried white collar worker to a blue collar wage slave. If you took a doctor's appointment it came out of sick time or vacation. If you met a friend for lunch, you worked an hour late to make it up. Or else you just lied and hoped you didn't get caught, but they had video cameras on all the entrances and periodically audited employees to catch potential cheaters. Cheating would get you reprimanded in writing or fired. They claimed it was defrauding the government but that is not true because the government pays a fixed predetermined contract price for a fixed number of hours and the actual hours a project takes is paid for by the company.
The time card was a paper card that you write on. If you messed up writing you had to write a new one because corrections looked suspicious in the audits. You turned the time card in every friday and a lady typed it into the computer for you.
Vacation was earned bi-weekly, your first year you started with 0 hours and earned two weeks per year. Because you started with 0 you could not take a vacation until you earned it, or else you could take upaid leave. A normal company gives you two weeks up front to start in my experience.
Once you are hired, you can ride it till you're 65 and you'll never get fired unless you totally blow it for yourself. There were tons of people there with 30+ years of experience, who had never worked anywhere else ever. Even the CEO never worked anywhere else in his life. The people were entrenched and uncompetitive, unemployable elsewhere, having been isolated from the rest of the economy for so long.
Because there was such a preference to retain people, a great deal of incompetence was tolerated in employees. Production workers would make the same mistakes over and over despite retraining and not receive a single negative reinforcement. As an engineer supervising production, there was little recourse except to ask them nicely not to mess it up again. If their job was on the line I bet they would screw up less, but they knew they were secure so why bother trying harder.
The company earns such a huge profit from the government contracts that they don't need to be very competitive to perform well. They have a lot of contracts that are virtually guaranteed, being sole source suppliers, so they are sitting pretty as long they can meet their obligations. They could perform a heck of a lot better and earn even more profits if they would take themselves more seriously, and not as a career camp for future retirees.
Advice to Senior Management – Fire the bottom 15%, Jack Welch style. Revamp the time card system into an online system that doesn't charge projects for using the bathroom. Retire some of the old bulls who have no place in the 21st century economy, and bring in some fresh air in the management. Lose the intercom system in the cube farm; people check email every 20 minutes anyway. Start paying salaried employees like they are salaried.
2010-06-14 12:12 PDT
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