Creatively Filling Jobs

Dec. 21, 2004
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."

About the Author

John McClenahen | Former Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

 John S. McClenahen, is an occasional essayist on the Web site of IndustryWeek, the executive management publication from which he retired in 2006. He began his journalism career as a broadcast journalist at Westinghouse Broadcasting’s KYW in Cleveland, Ohio. In May 1967, he joined Penton Media Inc. in Cleveland and in September 1967 was transferred to Washington, DC, the base from which for nearly 40 years he wrote primarily about national and international economics and politics, and corporate social responsibility.
      McClenahen, a native of Ohio now residing in Maryland, is an award-winning writer and photographer. He is the author of three books of poetry, most recently An Unexpected Poet (2013), and several books of photographs, including Black, White, and Shades of Grey (2014). He also is the author of a children’s book, Henry at His Beach (2014).
      His photograph “Provincetown: Fog Rising 2004” was selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2011 juried exhibition Artists at Work and displayed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June until October 2011. Five of his photographs are in the collection of St. Lawrence University and displayed on campus in Canton, New York.
      John McClenahen’s essay “Incorporating America: Whitman in Context” was designated one of the five best works published in The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies during the twelve-year editorship of R. Barry Leavis of Rollins College. John McClenahen’s several journalism prizes include the coveted Jesse H. Neal Award. He also is the author of the commemorative poem “Upon 50 Years,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Wolfson College Cambridge, and appearing in “The Wolfson Review.”
      John McClenahen received a B.A. (English with a minor in government) from St. Lawrence University, an M.A., (English) from Western Reserve University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where he also pursued doctoral studies. At St. Lawrence University, he was elected to academic honor societies in English and government and to Omicron Delta Kappa, the University’s highest undergraduate honor. John McClenahen was a participant in the 32nd Annual Wharton Seminars for Journalists at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During the Easter Term of the 1986 academic year, John McClenahen was the first American to hold a prestigious Press Fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
      John McClenahen has served on the Editorial Board of Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and was co-founder and first editor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown. He has been a volunteer researcher on the William Steinway Diary Project at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has been an assistant professorial lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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