Perhaps you’ve heard about the 2,000 job openings at Boeing South Carolina and were wondering what it takes to work there.
Boeing South Carolina announced it would expand its workforce this coming year, and it has tripled its footprint in the state and announced plans to open a second site in Ladson.
In four short years, Boeing South Carolina has taken a vacant section of land in North Charleston and a workforce with zero commercial plane building experience to a productive, expanding plant that employs more than 6,000 people and produces about 10 wide-bodied airplane per month.
Just mention you work at Boeing in the state, and you might earn some instant respect among your peers — or, at least, that’s how Boeing South Carolina’s Vice President and General Manager Jack Jones sees it.
“It’s a prestige job,” he told a group of reporters earlier this month during a tour of the plant. “And you say you’re from Boeing or you work at Boeing, and there’s a prestige within the community.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the rumors circulating. There’s not enough experience or job training in the state to support hiring a lot of in-state employees. The site has a high turnover rate. The workforce is missing the mark in production due to lack of experience.
These are untrue, according to Jones. In fact, he said, the turnover in South Carolina is less than the turnover in Puget Sound, Wash., where Boeing has another facility with a unionized workforce. Jones quantified the numbers as a 6-to-8 percent turnover rate in South Carolina versus a 10-percent turnover rate in Washington state. Jones attributed the different rates to South Carolina’s lack of competing aerospace manufacturing.
“We are a unique facility and there aren’t a lot of other manufacturing facilities like Boeing here. They are in Seattle, so they have much more opportunity for choice if they don’t want to
do the job they’re doing, they can change. And you don’t have that same choice here,” Jones said.
And as far as lacking experience and being unable to hire South Carolina workers? Jones said 85 percent of Boeing South Carolina employees are from a 100-mile radius from the site.
“It was certain organizations in Washington (state) saying you won’t get the experience you need that is capable to building a commercial airplane,” Jones said. “We’ve obviously now put that to rest. We have, we are delivering airplanes.”
And, sure, they lacked experience, but they are building that experience one commercial plane at a time, Jones said.
“We wouldn’t have committed to a new IT center, a design center … if we thought we had to bring everybody from Seattle,” Jones said. He added that South Carolina workers are seen at all levels within the site — not just the high school grads working as mechanics, but also in management and engineering. “We get great support from the state, Ready SC, Trident Tech, training people before we ever put them on the floor.”
The state training and university training helps the company find the right workers.
“We have no problem with the technical skill of the local people that we’re hiring,” Jones said, adding that his team occupies spots on university boards throughout the state.
But if you just have a basic high school education, Boeing is looking at you to apply, too, Jones said.
Jones said high school graduates must have a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — called STEM — background for them to make through initial screening, however. And that’s a tougher find in the state, Jones said.
“We have to push STEM harder in the state. They need to step up their game,” Jones said. He added that he’s talked with legislators and with Gov. Nikki Haley to push more STEM in high schools.
From job posting to filling a job, it takes about 8-10 weeks, according to Jones. Once an applicant is accepted, it can take up to eight weeks to train that employee. Once training is completed, the employee will then do on-the-job training before he or she is expected to work on the planes, Jones said. He called the process “definitive and elaborate.”