It was a daunting challenge, even for an organization like BAE Systems that was no stranger to the natural ebbs and flows of market conditions.
It was 2008 and with global financial markets roiling with uncertainty, BAE Systems—Europe’s largest defense contractor—needed to make some big changes. The company was preparing to shed some 5,000 jobs in 23 different sites across its operating units.
However, as is often the case with big defense contractors, not all areas of BAE were affected by the layoffs.
The company produces everything from state-of-the-art fighter jets to complex naval ships, armored combat vehicles and cyber security solutions. Product lifecycles can vary from several years to decades. That means while one business unit at BAE Systems is shedding jobs, it’s almost always the case that another can be recruiting.
The company was really challenged by this situation, and began to think about whether there was a better way of redirecting existing talent to fill vacant jobs. If a solution could be found, the company could avoid the enormous expense of severance and transition support.
The solution for BAE Systems was a more concerted focus on redeployment.
Redeployment is now part of the DNA of our organization. It shows our employees that we are willing to develop you and retrain you.BAE Systems had always included redeployment as part of its restructuring strategy. But the magnitude of the challenge, and the number of employees involved, required a more focused effort.
“We’re a high-tech, high-value organization,” said Paul Schofield, Head of Employee Relations for BAE Systems in the UK, where 34,000 of the company’s nearly 84,000 employees work. “We have lots of employees with a lot of different capabilities. The idea of redeployment was not new but we had only passively pursued it as an option in the past. There was clearly more we could do on this front.”
On its surface, redeployment seemed to make so much sense. Schofield said he had personally witnessed scenarios when he was overseeing layoffs at one site in northwest England while another BAE Systems site, not five miles away, was hiring. “It was really frustrating,” Schofield said. “I mean, why is it so difficult to move someone into a new job that was just five miles away?”
Schofield acknowledged that there was very specific domain knowledge related to the products in each of the company’s business units. However, there were also underlying capabilities and skills that could be transferred and applied to multiple products. The trick was finding a way to get hiring managers to see the value in those underlying capabilities and skills.
“We have an individual doing procurement in our Land business,” Schofield said. “He knows about working with systems and suppliers in the Land business. If they move to our Air business, they might not know the suppliers, but they will know procurement process and the rest they can pick up over time.”
The redeployment solution for BAE Systems ultimately came in the form of what Schofield called the “Redeployment Rule Book.”
Once an employee has been designated for possible redundancy, Schofield said they are granted access to a redeployment portal (hosted by Lee Hecht Harrison Penna) where they can see all the job openings in other parts of the company. They can also access online help to write CVs and prepare for interviews.
Once someone has applied for a job in a different business unit, hiring managers are required to first consider the redeployment candidates before they are given the green light to hire any other candidate, he said.
To be considered for a redeployment opportunity, the candidate must meet the “60 percent fit” rule. In other words, the candidate must possess more than half of the requirements to be considered for the new position.
For those candidates who make it through this first phase of vetting, hiring managers conduct a second assessment to determine if the person involved can be trained or re-skilled within six months to a 100 percent level of performance and capability.
“We accept that these employees are often a less than perfect fit at first,” Schofield said. “But even six months training and investment is worth avoiding the cost associated with redundancy and having to recruit externally.”
There are limits to redeployment, Schofield conceded. “If an electrician has applied for a computer programming job and has never touched a computer in his life, it’s okay for the manager to reject that application. But, if the electrician was working on wiring a missile system and is applying for a job doing more or less the same wiring and testing work on Land or Maritime products, then we expect them to be given a chance.”
Employees who are not successful in achieving redeployment are immediately graduated into a higher-level transition program to help prepare them for the external job market. Schofield said BAE Systems tries to get these employees into transition support at least a month before their termination date so they have time to get fully prepared to look for a job in another organization.
The bottom-line impact of redeployment has been profound.
A layoff of a UK worker can be a very expensive process based on current employment standards laws and other employment provisions. Schofield said that since 2008, BAE Systems has been able to redeploy more than 1,300 employees in the UK. That has saved the company more than £20 million ($25 million US) in severance and transition costs, and, in addition, it has retained more than 20,000 years of expertise.
There is still some tension around the redeployment initiative, Schofield said. Some of the company’s hiring managers would still prefer to bring on a new hire that already meets 100 percent of the job requirements. However, BAE Systems has made it clear that “redeployment is part of the essence of our culture, and an important differentiator between our company and others in the same industry.”
“We are a naturally paternalistic organization,” Schofield said. “[Redeployment] is now part of the DNA of our organization. It shows our employees that we are willing to develop you and retrain you. And in the tough times, we’re going to help look after you.”