Workforce.com

BAE Systems Puts a Spin on Career Growth

August 21, 2007
BAE Systems Inc. didn’t invent the concept of job rotation for employee training. But the huge aerospace and defense contractor is doing its part to champion the practice.

    Each year, training managers at its Electronics and Integrated Solutions division in Nashua, New Hampshire, tap a select group of high performers to participate in an intensive program of leadership development. The participants come from various departments, including engineering, manufacturing, finance and operations.

    These are not run-of-the-mill training classes. Instead, both employees and the company make a significant commitment. During a three-year period, participants agree to switch to a new job every year, taking on stretch assignments to learn the various functions of BAE’s business.

    An engineer, for instance, may spend a year working in financial accounting before rotating to a position in operations.

    The company, meanwhile, encourages participants to pursue master’s degrees and other job-related college degrees. It helps pay tuition.

    During the three-year period, top brass at BAE evaluate each individual’s leadership potential. Employees are given a series of work objectives mapped out by their managers and BAE’s training team.

    Rotating to different jobs fosters continual learning and strengthens employee engagement, says Laura Joubert, a leadership development program coordinator in Nashua.

    It also helps individuals play a greater role in their career development, thus strengthening BAE’s chances of holding on to top performers—especially workers from Generations X and Y.

    "These are people who constantly want to learn and be stimulated, which is why the rotational program appeals to them," Joubert says.

    Employees sometimes are asked to make extraordinary sacrifices to further their careers. During their second year of training, people aspiring to careers in finance are expected to pick up and move to a different BAE location—often in a different state—and spend a year learning what it takes to run a global organization.

    BAE Systems is a subsidiary of BAE Systems PLC of Great Britain, which employs about 90,000 people worldwide and produced $27 billion in revenue in 2006. Its U.S. headquarters are in Rockville, Maryland, with other locations scattered across the country.

    One of those is the Electronics and Integrated Solutions division in Nashua, which designs, develops and manufactures a host of sophisticated electronic communication systems for military and commercial uses. About 9,000 people work there.

    Younger workers, especially those entering the workforce directly from college, are looking to work for companies that make ongoing learning a priority, says Dianne Durkin, president and founder of the Loyalty Factor, a training firm in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

    Durkin’s company provides career-planning workshops and other training to BAE employees in Nashua. Younger workers have an almost myopic focus on professional growth, she says.

    "Training is this generation’s equivalent of the 401(k)," Durkin says.

    Companies that understand the value of ongoing learning tend to hire people who are fiercely loyal and highly productive, says Norman Schippers, a consultant with Capital H Group in the Woodlands, Texas.

    "Training and development opportunities have become a big piece of the overall rewards package, especially with younger workers. It’s sometimes a bigger retention hook than offering a few thousand dollars more," Schippers says.

    The focus on grooming leaders is both new and old at BAE Systems. Although the 55-year-old company has long provided career training for senior executives, it lacked similar programs for the rest of its workforce.

    But a pair of demographic body blows got the attention of top management several years ago, Joubert says. With a large percentage of its workforce nearing retirement, and a dwindling supply of capable replacements, BAE brass agonized about how to backfill those positions, she says. At the same time, exit surveys revealed an alarming loss of high-potential employees, many of whom cited a lack of career opportunities as a chief reason for their departure.

    Nashua was one of the first sites within BAE to roll out leadership training. Similar training is being installed at other BAE facilities, including ones in Fort Wayne, Indiana, San Diego and the United Kingdom.

    Joubert declined to say whether the new training has boosted retention rates, but the program is a selling point during her annual recruiting pilgrimages. Joubert, along with hiring and recruiting managers at Nashua, visit Boston-area colleges each fall, hoping to seal deals with June graduates by December.