When Marillyn Hewson met with then president-elect Donald Trump in January 2017 about reducing the costs of the F-35 fighter jet, she made an announcement that would significantly impact the North Texas manufacturing environment.
"We are going to increase our jobs in Fort Worth by 1,800 jobs," Hewson said. The Fort Worth plant was already the largest manufacturing plant in DFW with an employee count of 13,400 at the time.
Twenty two months later, Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) has reached that figure. In fact, the aerospace and defense manufacturer has blown past the original goal as the company now employs 16,400 people at its massive Fort Worth facility.
The company needed more workers as it looks to ramp up production of the F-35 aircraft. The aircraft, dubbed a fifth-generation fighter jet, is regarded as one of the most advanced weapons ever developed. It's also the most expensive weapons program the U.S. Department of Defense has ever taken on as the company recently announced it had brought the cost of a single aircraft down to $89.2 million.
To take on this massive uptick in employment, Lockheed Martin has hosted hiring events where it offers hundreds of people letters of intent. These hiring events include dozens of Lockheed Martin employees interviewing hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people on one day.
A letter of intent is different from a job offer, as people who receive letters then have to pass background checks and drug screenings. As a general rule about half the people who receive letters of intent end up becoming employees.
So far, the company has hosted six of these hiring events at the Sheraton in downtown Fort Worth, which have been well publicized. There have been lessons to learn since the first event back in June 2017, said Lisa Early, Talent Acquisition manager at Lockheed Martin.
"It wasn't as streamlined as they are now," Early said about the first hiring event. "We had thousands and thousands of people show up. We hadn't got our formula right, so people did not move as quickly. I think we heard people say they stood in line for five, six, seven hours, and that definitely wasn't the experience we wanted to create."
During that first event, Early said they could have communicated more effectively with the thousands of people that came. A wide range of people showed up and stood in line, from vice presidents of large companies to receptionists and cashiers who had no experience building aircraft.
The company recently hosted its sixth hiring event in September and "we think we've got the formula dialed in," Early said. The company does a better job communicating with prospective employees about what job requirements are necessary for open roles.
In the most recent event in September, doors opened at 7:00 a.m. and by 10:00, Early said the line was just trickling in the door. A total of 820 letters of intent were handed out in September, meaning the largest hiring event took much less time than previous events.
Lockheed Martin will likely host more hiring events either later this year or early in 2019, but no dates have been set yet. One position that's tricky to fill is low observable coater.
If you go to an auto body shop for your car, they might slap a coat of paint on it. The coating on the F-35 is a bit more complex, as it's responsible for aiding the aircraft's stealth capabilities. In other words, it's ability to evade radar, so the thickness of the coating has to be precise.
"There's an expertise to this that doesn't really exist in another industry," said company spokesperson Ken Ross.
One thing that's surprised Lockheed Martin is the depth of manufacturing talent in Dallas-Fort Worth. The area is a hub for manufacturing. DFW added 8,800 manufacturing employees last year, tied for the most in the country with Houston, according to Dallas Business Journal research.
"I kind of think we thought, 'Hey, we can go try this,' and eventually we would get everybody that was market available," Early said. "But they keep coming. They all want to work at Lockheed."
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