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Creatively Filling Jobs

Gale Coleman's signal achievement at Eaton's NCD.

The 650,000-sq-ft, 1950s-era administrative headquarters and manufacturing plant of Eaton Corp.'s Navy Controls Div. (NCD) are seven miles from the modern office blocks of downtown Milwaukee and showing their age. But the standout results of the division's two-year-old Future New Employee Training program (F-NET) are every bit as impressive as the glass, concrete, and steel buildings closer to Lake Michigan's shore. Two classes have gone through F-NET-an unpaid, 14-week program designed to bring underemployed individuals and people on welfare and other forms of public assistance into meaningful jobs at NCD. The graduation rate has averaged 87%, a level that more than a few four-year colleges and universities would like to match. To date, some 23 months after the first class entered in October 1997, only three of the 20 people who have completed the program have lost their post-graduation jobs -- two for attendance problems, the third for threatening another worker. That's an impressive 85% retention rate, particularly considering that some of the most-publicized U.S. welfare-to-work programs have retention rates of only 50%. Although six men have gone through the program and graduated, participants predominantly have been single black women with families and with a high-school diploma or an education certificate. Ages of the participants have ranged from 24 to 61, the oldest being a white male. No graduate better personifies the program's promise and achievement than Gale V. Coleman. Having recently lost her job as an office manager in an insurance company that folded, she was in NCD's first class in 1997, graduated, and got a job as an assembler paying $12.01 an hour. She's now a production supervisor making more than $35,000 a year. "When they interviewed me [for the training program], they asked where I saw myself in five years. I said, 'In management,'" Coleman recalls. "Little did I know it would be less than a year." NCD designs and builds custom power systems, primarily for the U.S. Navy. And its F-NET program is the product of a business-labor-government partnership, explains Melanie D. Lewis, division human-resources manager. Inspired by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's highly publicized welfare-to-work initiative, it has involved the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, a Private Industry Council, the Milwaukee Area Technical College, and the International Assn. of Machinists & Aerospace Workers. Indeed, the Aerospace union's involvement has been a key to the success of the program, says Lewis. "The real success is that we put together a program in partnership with the educational institutions; with the municipal, state, and federal governments supporting the cost of the training; with local community agencies that participated in the training; and with our union, which fully participated in the screening and selection of the people and helped to integrate them into the workforce," states Edward Bartlett Jr., general manager of NCD. "It would have been more expeditious and cheaper -- at least in the short run-to hire people other ways," Lewis states. But, she stresses, NCD wanted to find a creative way of helping to fill 100 job openings, to have an impact on the largely minority community in which the division is located, and to lead the way in showing how business can be responsible. "We put together a program that attracted everybody to participate in what you would consider to be a nontraditional partnership, because, frankly . . . defense contractors don't generally have a reputation for social activism, which [is what] you could call this," stresses Bartlett. "Everybody got something good out of this, and the people who got the most good out of it were the people who went through the training and have jobs now."

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