Working in the airline industry can take you places. Even from an elevation of only 110 feet -- the official above sea level height of the city of Everett – which is the site of The Boeing Company’s commercial airplane plant on Washington state's northernmost coast.
The career path of Bridget Beckmyer-Johnson provides clear evidence of the "sky’s the limit" type of opportunities available to the dedicated employee. Her passion for people and learning has transported her from an entry-level position as an airplane “sealer” all the way to management during her 15-year tenure at the plant.
Between 2005 and 2009, the Everett main factory building was transformed via the Future Factory project to include more open collaborative workspaces within a massive 600,000 square feet of overall facility space. Measured at over 402 million cubic feet, it is the largest building in the world by volume. In 2005, the company also launched the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour, a showcase for both Boeing, the international aerospace leader, and the airline industry at large.
Working at Boeing is a family tradition for Beckmyer-Johnson, so it goes without saying she had the company in her sights from the get-go. Like many young people, she had big dreams but no clear path to achieving them. "You know that you’re meant to go somewhere," she explained, "but I didn’t know what (that might mean) yet."
So, she began as an hourly worker in 1997, working as a "747 sealer." Work she describes as "basically caulking a bathtub, but on a plane."
When asked if the job required a bit of athleticism, Beckmyer-Johnson laughed and described climbing over the airplane wings of 747s in coveralls with a tool bag. Once she mastered that first job, she advanced to an "in tank" (inside the aircraft) position doing wing sealing.
Pushing to learn each task, or in her own words, "to master the environment," served to build her knowledge base. Eventually, she had worked all airplane production lines within the Everett plant and was hungry for new challenges.
Her first salaried position soon followed. Beckmyer-Johnson became an employee development specialist, which allowed her to mentor and indulge her natural passion for growing people.
"I’m the one who always ran over to the new guy on the floor," she said.
She helped to further develop the company’s peer-to-peer approach to training, which links classroom learning to hands-on experience early and often in the education process. Seasoned employees are viewed as a resource for teaching newcomers to the Boeing family as well as a means to improving on best practices. Beckmyer-Johnson is an enthusiastic proponent of "leveraging the knowledge" of the veteran workers.
It’s exciting to work for the industry leader, she says. The plant builds 747s, 767s, 777s as well as the new 787 "Dreamliner," an aircraft that has captured the attention of travel enthusiasts with its innovative technological advancements and environmental enhancements. Not surprisingly, she said there’s a special energy derived from working on this cutting edge aircraft. While she has boarded the 787 on the plant floor, she has yet to enjoy a flight on the new plane but expects to feel the same pride she feels when aboard any other Boeing aircraft.
As president of one of the company’s main leadership development programs "The Leadership Development Excellence Program," Beckmyer-Johnson has had more opportunities to travel on company business and enjoys the opportunities to "talk to folks about best practices" and to "teach business basics."
She landed in her current position as First Line Manager of IAM (International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers)/Boeing Joint Programs four months ago. The IAM/Boeing Joint Programs are unique labor-management partnerships providing training and services to eligible active and laid-off Boeing employees, to help them prepare for the challenges of the industry's ever-changing work environment. Her days are less predictable now but her focus remains on employee involvement and reaching out to employees at all levels of the Boeing building process, to better understand and innovate the teaching of building a quality product.
Ironically, the hardest part of her job is also what Beckmyer-Johnson relishes the most: the learning curve. She loves the challenge of mastering new information in a way that will benefit both Boeing and the individual employee. Presently, she is focused on "soaking up as much information" as she can and improving the overall process from the ground level on up.
Beckmyer-Johnson sees her industry as limitless to the individual possessing a drive to learn and to grow. She advises newcomers to fully "focus on the current moment" and to "master where (they) are before moving on." An employee with the ability to bank knowledge and build upon it as they go will develop into a company asset (such as herself).
A dynamic leader and motivator, Beckmyer-Johnson obviously draws a lot of energy from her work for Boeing. She describes the company as a fun and fulfilling place to work, largely because of the connections between its employees. "People move from outside states to work for Boeing," she said. "Boeing is a big deal."
"I love the diversity of thought and being ten steps ahead as an industry leader,” she said.