Layoffs have become a fact of life in the manufacturing industry. Being prepared is the best defense against the threat of downsizing, which often occurs with little or no advance warning. Assemblers who are prepared for transition and organizational change stand a much better chance of surviving or even thriving during mass layoffs.

According to career counselors, engineers must take charge of their careers. That means improving your marketability inside and outside of your current company. By taking the following proactive steps, you can help safeguard your future:

  • Be flexible. Embrace change, learn to love chaos and be ready to "hit the road" at any time.
  • Have a contingency plan ready. Set up a special computer file, plus a backup copy on a disk, that you can quickly access. It should contain what-if information such as "Who would you call?" and "What would you do?"
  • Don't rely on rumors. Talk to people you trust (preferably a mentor or someone you know who has moved up the corporate ladder) and find out what's really going on in your company or division.
  • Determine whether or not you "add value" to your company. If you don't have anything unique or value-added to offer your employer, it's a sign that you need to increase your technical and nontechnical skills. As you reflect on the work you do, think about your daily activities. How much value does it add to the process? Is it reflected in the actual value of the product your plant is producing? If your job has high value-added content, you can feel more secure.
  • Learn as much as you can about your company, including its products and customers; its short- and long-term marketing strategy; and its competitive position in the marketplace. An annual report is a good place to find much of this information. Also track industry trends in order to anticipate any changes that may occur.
  • Learn basic accounting principles, such as cash flow, net present value and how balance sheets work. Make sure top management knows that you are savvy when it comes to financial terms, topics and techniques.
  • Find out where the action is. What division of your company is growing? Try to get yourself assigned to a product, project or plant in that area.
  • Imagine how your company or division could operate better and how you can contribute to the bottom line.
  • Keep your head up. Justify your existence and market yourself both internally and externally.
  • Cultivate a variety of business skills, such as finance and marketing, to go along with your technical expertise.
  • Volunteer for cross-functional teams. Learn as much as you can about different departments and job responsibilities throughout the company or division.
  • Volunteer for transition teams or special task forces. If your company is restructuring, try to get involved in planning some aspect of the new organization.
  • Establish a network of contacts (both inside and outside your company) to serve as an information source and a base for future job search activities.
  • Keep up with new technologies and changes in manufacturing processes. Be the source of state-of-the-art technical knowledge for your company or division.