Tight job market makes layoffs a little easier for high-tech workers

Colorado’s tight job market is good news to workers displaced by layoffs at local high-tech firms like Louisville’s MKE Quantum Components, Amgen’s Boulder plant, and the Eagle division of Exabyte Corp.

Exabyte terminated 70 people at its Eagle division on Jan. 14. Of those, 12 were offered administrative jobs, said Ginny Ilges, an Exabyte spokeswoman. About 20 in the Eagle division kept on to wrap up manufacturing pieces will be let go in April, Ilges said.

Another 60 administrative workers also were let go at the same time from Exabyte. Of the 130 layoffs, workers came from all job categories, including administration, marketing, engineering and manufacturing, Ilges said.

For those who leave Exabyte, the company provides a severance package, extended medical benefits and outplacement services through Right Management Consultants. The Denver agency helps workers find new jobs, even helping them “assimilate” into a new organization, said Rex Rolf, managing principal.

Milpitas, Calif.-based Quantum gave pink slips to about 500 people in November as a result of a reorganization. Japanese manufacturer MKE owns a majority interest in the Louisville plant. Although production was moved to other Quantum plants, MKQC retains about 130 research and development employees in Louisville.

Displaced workers have opportunities to relocate or be “redeployed within Quantum or MKQC,” according to spokeswoman Holly Campbell. Additionally, the Quantum facility in Colorado Springs sent human resources representatives to Louisville to recruit. The company also offered assistance in terms of contacting other companies “and we got a significant amount of interest from other companies,” Campbell says.

When Amgen Inc. of Thousand Oaks, Calif., purchased Boulder’s foundering Synergen in 1994, it was good news for many biotech workers. Over the years the company has done more manufacturing in Boulder, because, from a risk management standpoint, says spokesman David Kaye, “we don’t want manufacturing near a major earthquake fault.”

At the same time, Kaye says, the company has decided to cut back on research and development activities in Boulder. It is consolidating research at the Thousand Oaks facility and looking for a partner to take on Boulder operations. The decision meant about 70 research-related workers were laid off.

Displaced workers received 90 days continuance pay, and, depending on seniority and job level, another 30 to 90 days salary, as well as extended health benefits and job search assistance, Kaye says. A small number relocated to Thousand Oaks. Others were offered positions but didn’t want to move, he says.

The irony, however, is that because of its focus on manufacturing in Colorado, Amgen is building a new facility in Longmont and plans to hire upward of 100 people by the end of the year. Kaye is optimistic about finding qualified personnel.

“There are other biotech companies in the area as well as highly skilled manufacturing jobs. The Boulder employment base is highly skilled and highly educated,” Kaye says.

Telecommunications superstar Qualcomm, headquartered in San Diego with an engineering division in Boulder, also needs skilled new employees frequently as it continues to grow. But it tries to prevent turnover with an “employee-friendly culture,” which includes an above-average benefits program and an employee referral program, says Bob Wilczynski, manager of human resources in the Boulder office. Full personal and dependent health insurance is a benefit at Qualcomm.

The company’s employee referral program, which ran on a trial basis for seven months in 1997, likely will be renewed this year, Wilczynski says. Employees who referred job candidates who were hired received $1,000. Of the 78 new hires during the program, 36 percent were found through the program.

“It has to be one of the most cost effective ways to recruit,” Wilczynski says. “You get 10 hires for $1,000 each, and it costs more than that for a half page ad in the Denver Post.”

Plus there’s less chance of having to wade through resumes from unqualified people, he says.

“Generally speaking, you know that an employee on your staff isn’t going to refer someone who won’t fit into the company. They’re putting their own reputation on the line.”