Employment Challenges

Approximately three weeks ago, my employer announced the complete elimination of an entire department within our factory and a reduction of the support staff to reflect the reduced workload. This is happening in stages, currently projected to happen from start to finish during the first quarter of next year. Some support staff who are being eliminated will stay beyond that time to help with the decommissioning of equipment.

They have offered voluntary separation packages to certain employees outside the area that they are closing, including support areas that are suffering reductions. The deadline for requesting separation under this program has passed, and management is currently reviewing the applications. They expect to make official offers to those qualified shortly. After that, each individual will have forty-five days to accept or reject the terms of the offer, and an additional seven days after that to rescind their decision. I applaud the company for announcing this as much in advance as they did, and for putting the VSPs out there to try to limit the impact as much as possible.

However, I’m not a patient person. I also do not like change. I’m in a support area that is being reduced. I’m also second in line to be cut based on the company’s method of calculating such things. Supposedly, just enough people in my section signed up for the VSP to allow me to stay. This won’t be official until the aforementioned fifty-two days have passed. All it will take is for one person to change their mind and I’ll be cut.

They are still adding and filling positions in the unaffected areas while all this is going on. Two team lead positions are currently on the board. I was a team lead for three years before moving into the technician job, so I’m eligible for consideration. However, several current team lead positions are being eliminated, some who have been leads for much longer than I was. The competition is going to be fierce. One of the positions is a technical “working team lead” slot, so my maintenance background should help some with that one, but I still rate my chances at less than fifty percent. It would be a pay cut, but less than if I were to move into an assembler or operator role, assuming that I could even land one of those.

As soon as this was announced, before I was told that I should be safe based on VSP participation, I applied for six positions in the local area for which I felt I was qualified. Four have responded with some version of “Thanks, but no thanks” and the other two have been completely silent. Both of these were in the pharmaceutical industry, which has unique requirements and systems that I would have to learn, making them the biggest stretches as to whether I qualified for consideration. I guess nobody wants a fifty year old white man with a couple decades of non-specific maintenance experience.

Honestly, I don’t want to stay in maintenance. The last year has taught me that I’m too old to be climbing on and under equipment. Also, I know that there are holes in my knowledge and skillset. As the tech dedicated to a specific area, I’ve mostly worked alone for the past year. I’ve been able to take the time to find answers to fill these holes as they appeared, and nobody is any the wiser. But if I can stay, I’ll move into the general maintenance team. Their approach is to throw every available body at whatever problem arises. So there will be witnesses to my ignorance. This will be the same even if I change companies. I’m not comfortable with that.

Obviously, I want to earn as much money as possible. Everyone does. But I don’t need it. My house will be paid off before the end of the year. I paid cash for the car that I bought new last year. My debt consists of a single credit card on a zero percent interest promotion and my tractor payment, which is also at zero percent. I’d be fine financially at a grade one assembler’s pay. No, my retirement nest egg wouldn’t grow much, but nothing else would change.

The trick will be getting into one of these lower level jobs. I don’t really want leadership either, but the technical lead is also for a very small team, so it shouldn’t be a stretch for me. Otherwise, I’d like to just be a machine operator, responsible only for making sure that my machine did whatever it was supposed to do during my shift. That is considered a semi-technical job, and I was a machine operator (and lead operator) in a different area for almost seven years before moving into the tech role, so I have demonstrated aptitude despite having zero experience on the specific equipment that I would have to operate. I just don’t know if I’ll be lost in the noise of all the other applicants scrambling to save themselves.

Time will tell. I’m old enough that I don’t encourage the rapid passing of time, but in this case I really wish I could hit the fast forward button.

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