11:55 PM, Jul. 16, 2011
MEGAN K. SCOTT
Residents who’ve already faced job losses offer advice to current space workers
There are moments of hope and even excitement about charting a new course. But at times, it’s a daunting journey, mired in fear and uncertainty.
Atlantis is scheduled to land early Thursday, marking the end of the 30-year shuttle era. That final “wheels stop” will trigger the loss of 2,300 shuttle jobs this month; another 1,000 will be gone by the end of September, according to work force officials.
Thousands of their co-workers have already been there — laid off during the past couple years as the shuttle program wound down. All told, roughly 8,000 jobs will have disappeared with the retirement of the fleet.
The shuttle program was a dream and a source of unbelievable pride for the community and those who turned up for work every day at Kennedy Space Center. It also — like any job — was a regular paycheck, one not easily replaced in this difficult economy.
Nevertheless, the dismantling of the program has been a catalyst for space workers to reinvent themselves and embark into the unknown.
Current and former space workers share what that path has been like thus far.
Brash, 52, of Palm Bay worked at the space center for seven years as an aerospace technician. He was let go in October.
“I just completed my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of Central Florida, so that was keeping me busy. Now I am embracing the job market.
So far, it’s a bit slow. I updated my resume and sent it to Harris Corp. and Northrop Grumman. I know there are other companies out there hiring, so I’m keeping my options open. I really want to stay in this area. I have a wife and kids and we’ve been living here for more than 15 years. But if I have to, I will move.
It’s been one month since I finished my degree, so I’m adjusting to having more time. I get up and do housework, the laundry, go to the grocery store. I am a deacon at Glory Bound Church of God New Testament in Palm Bay, and that keeps me busy. I am also going for my master’s in engineering management.
My faith also keeps me going. Even though one door has closed, other doors are opening, so that helps me not get too frustrated.
My advice to space workers is to stay focused and have a Plan B. Plan A may be working at the space center. Plan B may be working in another field, such as biotechnology, doing a job that is related to what they were doing at the space center.
I knew the space (shuttle) program was coming to an end. I went to school because I wanted some assurance that if my career path changed, I would able to find meaningful employment.”
Snider, 55, of Port St. John began working at the space center in 1979. In October, he volunteered to be let go.
“In 2005, I learned the space shuttle program was going to end in 2010. I didn’t want to get caught short-handed, so I started working on a Plan B. I really didn’t know what else to do other than work in aerospace. So I sat in church and asked God to reveal my God-given talent. I had started carving tikis in 2004 — hammer and chisel, no power tools — when the hurricanes came through. There were trees down all over the place and piles of wood in front of homes. So I started hauling wood home. I did fairly well at it, but I quickly realized the tiki market was entirely saturated.
My girlfriend asked me, ‘Why don’t you carve fish since you have fished all your life?’ So I basically became a fish sculptor.
I really wanted to get this business up and running to the point where it was self-sustaining before I was let go in 2010. So for about five years, I worked in aerospace and carved fish on the side. It wasn’t until late last year/early this year, when I opened the shop, that the business actually became self-sustaining.
There is life after the space shuttle program, and there are aerospace jobs out there. I still look at them because I have a love for space. You can’t do something for 31 years and not feel like you’re still a part of it.
Remrey, 59, of Cocoa Beach worked at the space center for almost 15 years. Her last day was Oct. 1.
“It’s been difficult. I’m surprised I’m not back to work. I wasn’t aware it was going to be this hard. I know my family is a bit concerned because I’m down here by myself and am eventually going to run out of money. I have good leads, but if I don’t have something by October, I may go back home to the Midwest.
My search is broad. I have thought about becoming a yoga instructor or doing clerical work at a school. I do wonder if it’s harder to find work at my age. It’s why I’m hoping to find a job before I turn 60 in August — not that the number should matter. But 59 sounds a whole lot better than 60.
I remain hopeful. I keep smiling. I listen to positive music all the time. I go to Bible study. I have started dancing, surfing and doing yoga again. Those things have given me an outlet away from so much focus on trying to find work.
But at times it does get to be almost too much. So I jump on my bike and go for a ride. The sunshine lifts my spirits.
If I do have a moment, I open up the Bible. I just sit down and say ‘thank you.’ You have to believe in a higher power. You have to be able to accept the highs and lows of life. Just know that it will get better.
I have good days and great days. That’s how I choose to look at life.”
Bailey, 52, of Cocoa worked at the space center for 30 years. She took a voluntary layoff in April.
“I am a second-generation aerospace worker. Between my father, Bill Bailey (42 years of service), myself and my brother C.W., (27 years of service) we have 99¤years of service to America’s space program.
It’s really, really hard trying to translate an aerospace job into another line of work. If I was in clerical or a records clerk, that would translate more easily into other positions, something at a hospital or a corporation, for example.
I’m applying for a lot of things. I’m hoping some employers will see that I’m going to school and that will benefit me.
I won’t lie. I have gotten discouraged. I considered the people I worked with my family, my extended family. You still phone and email but you miss that face time. I think had I realized how hard this was going to be, I might have stayed until the July layoff.
But it is what it is.
I took the voluntary layoff because it was inevitable it was coming and I wanted to get a head start on school — I’m pursuing a certificate in administrative health — and the job search.
In my spare time, I take photos. I make jewelry. I have been doing a little home improvement here at the house.
When I get down, I go sit outside in the sun, go to the beach or visit with someone. You have to have something to break up the sadness and disappointment. I spend a lot of time with my grandsons (ages 5 and 1 ½). They are the light of my life.”
Hodak, 51, of Merritt Island worked at the space center for 21 years. He was let go in October.
“I was actually happy that I was let go. I did not like what I was doing. But I would never have quit. I had two sons. It was a blessing to have the job — it paid the bills, provided benefits — but it was not creative and not my thing.
My thing is writing music, playing music, owning the stage, uplifting people with sound. I wanted to do something with depth, with meaning. And the shuttle launches had meaning, but for me, it just wasn’t enough.
I started doing music part-time when I was 33, while I was still at the space center. I played publicly for the first time in an open mike. I was petrified but it was a huge breakthrough.
When I was let go, I knew I wasn’t going to get another full-time job, not unless it was something I was passionate about — not unless it had depth, meaning and purpose. I sing spiritual-based songs about life, what I have been through, pain, beauty, faith and hope.
I’m writing like a crazy man. I’m really into the music community. Yes, it is a struggle. So many people do what I do. But I have to go on faith and know that this is what I am supposed to do. I get paid to do what I love. I’m not rich, but I’m happy. I’m centered.
The people who are at the space center who truly love it and are being let go, I feel bad for them. My advice for them is to be truly honest about what they are passionate about and head that way.”
Chiapperino, 59, of Merritt Island spent 28 years at the space center. He was let go in September 2009. He is now working for InfraTech.
“I was applying for anything that I thought I qualified for, even massage jobs since that is my second career. I was trying to stay in Brevard. I found this job through Brevard Workforce.
It’s going OK. I like drafting and the design part is a plus for me.
I do miss almost everything about the space center. After 28 years, it really became almost a way (of) life. There is a transition going from that government facility-type work to private industry.
The people who are losing their jobs now are going to have it a lot rougher than me. I had 28 years of experience and it took me a year to find something. It’s now a year and eight months later, and there are fewer jobs in this area.
My advice is: ‘Don’t quit looking. Don’t give up. Don’t let it get to you.’ A negative emotion never solves a problem. So I try not to have them. Worrying about problems doesn’t solve them either.
And they need to think outside of aerospace. It may not be what they want, but it might be something they can do in the meantime.”