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On Boeing, Innovation, Competition, and Job Cuts

What’s that old saying, actions speak louder than words? Boeing Chairman and CEO James McNerney stepped onto the soapbox on Feb. 19 to decry the quality of U.S. education, warning that the nation is producing too few STEM graduates—science, technology, engineering, and math—to compete against China, India, and “places in the Middle East.” Borrowing a term, he added in a speech in Chicago to alumni of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management that the U.S. faces an “innovation deficit.”

After McNerney finished his remarks, in which he also challenged the Obama Administration to grant investment tax breaks and push harder for more free trade pacts, I got an email news alert that Boeing had sent layoff notices to another 1,000 employees. And guess what sorts of workers the company is firing? Four out of five are STEM workers in the aircraft maker’s engineering, operations, and technology unit. They’re the latest in a series of layoffs that will exceed 10,000, according to the company.

A Boeing spokesman confirmed the news report. He also told me that me that the new cuts come primarily in IT support. But he said that while these workers are no longer needed, Boeing is continuing to hire STEM-skilled applicants in R&D, and in the U.S.

In his speech, McNerney said: “We face a global skill shortage. The problem is growing acute in the U.S. We face a skill shortage, not a labor shortage.” There may be 1,000 Boeing employees who could come up with a way to solve that problem.

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