Boeing’s trajectory as it strives to dig out of a deep hole is strangely the inverse of the giant tech companies.
Google, Microsoft and Meta all made billions every quarter last year and are now busily laying off tens of thousands of employees.
Boeing lost $5.1 billion in 2022, while it hired 23,000 new people, according to employment figures released Friday.
With attrition and retirements, Boeing’s worldwide workforce grew last year by nearly 14,800 net, bringing the total to 156,354.
And this year, Boeing says it plans to hire 10,000 more, mostly in manufacturing and engineering jobs.
A state-by-state breakdown of Boeing’s employment figures posted annually on the company website and updated Friday shows that Boeing employment in Washington state grew 8% in 2022, adding more than 4,400 net jobs.
That brought Boeing’s workforce in Washington on Jan. 1 to 60,244, making it the second largest private employer behind Amazon, which has about 85,000 employees in the state.
The bump up in Boeing’s workforce here comes after two years of substantial job losses.
In 2020, when the pandemic first paralyzed air travel and with the 737 MAX still grounded, Boeing shed a total of nearly 15,000 jobs in Washington. In 2021, it shed more than 1,000 more.
Workers needed for recovery
The turnaround is partly due to the rapid post-pandemic return of air travel worldwide that has airlines eager to get airplanes.
Another factor, paradoxically, is the dire collapse of Boeing’s business over the past four years. To recover, it needs people.
During the pandemic, the tech companies hired aggressively when people locked down all over the world needed access to their products. Now, the companies find they don’t need so many.
In contrast, the airlines as well as Boeing and its suppliers all shed many thousands of workers as business dried up. And in 2020, there was little indication that air travel would return as fast as it did.
The rapid reboot of air travel left the aviation industry generally facing a labor shortage. Airlines now are hiring people to add flights.
For Boeing, the need is even more urgent. Its business was hit not only by the pandemic but also the nearly two-year grounding of the 737 MAX after the fatal crashes and the prolonged stoppage in 787 deliveries due to quality defects.
Though deliveries have resumed for both planes, MAX production remains slow and 787 production is at a crawl.
To try to regain some of the significant market share lost to rival Airbus and to generate the cash it needs to recover its position, Boeing must ramp up the production rates of those jets.
It needs mechanics to work the assembly lines and also to do necessary rework on the hundreds of MAXs and 787s still in storage.
It needs engineers to work with the mechanics in those factories, engineers to finish certifying its latest MAX 7, MAX 10 and 777X models, and engineers to work on key defense products.
At the more esoteric and scary heights of Boeing research, engineers are developing military technology to rival anything the tech giants are doing.
One focus area is artificial intelligence to enable teams of autonomous, unmanned aerial jets that can act together — almost certainly for a classified Air Force system planned for combat deployment.
Boeing touts the breadth of work available during a career at the company as a draw for young talent. Spokesperson Jessica Kowal said when Boeing made job offers last year, it had a 78% acceptance rate.
On Wednesday, speaking to analysts on Boeing’s quarterly earnings call, CEO Dave Calhoun said emphatically: “We have had no trouble hiring people. None.”
He added that all the rework on the stored MAXs and 787s has provided an excellent training ground for new mechanics.
He said the skills gained in that work “will displace whatever retirements … or demographic issues that we have over the next couple of years.”
“And on the engineering front,” Calhoun added enthusiastically, “Man, we’ve had a real good run. Hiring is over 10,000.”
Kowal said Boeing needs software engineers, among others, so the shakeout at the tech companies may benefit Boeing.
Meanwhile, Airbus, ascendant now in its rivalry with Boeing for the past four years, isn’t letting up in its drive to dominate.
The European aerospace champion said Thursday it plans to recruit more than 13,000 people globally this year, of which about 7,000 will fill newly created positions.
Most of the Boeing jobs added in 2022 were in the Commercial Airplanes division, which grew by more than 5,300 employees.
The Defense and Space unit added just over 2,000 jobs and the Global Service unit more than 2,200, with the remaining growth in corporate enterprise-wide positions.
Despite last year’s bump, the total Boeing workforce in Washington state remains well short of the nearly 72,000 at the start of 2020 just before the pandemic.
Before that, the recent peak employment in the state was in 2012, when Boeing had 87,000 employees here. A quarter century ago, in 1998, Boeing had 104,000 employees in Washington.
Adding jobs nationwide
Yet Washington remains by far the biggest state in Boeing’s universe, with 39% of its employees here. The next largest is Missouri, home to Boeing’s defense unit, with 15,796 employees, or 10% of the workforce.
The new data shows Boeing in 2022 added just under 1,000 net jobs each in Missouri, South Carolina and Texas.
Boeing builds the 787 in South Carolina, where it now has just shy of 6,500 employees.
Texas is home to Boeing’s services business, including spare parts and modification work, and has just over 6,700 employees.
Boeing also added nearly 1,200 jobs last year in California, where it has teams that provide aftermarket support for airlines and also a satellite manufacturing facility, bringing the total in that state to just over 13,600.
Boeing said 13% of its total workforce, about 20,300 employees, are located outside the U.S.
The job growth comes despite a rash of Boeing retirements late in the year and some outsourcing of corporate financial jobs.
Boeing in November lost more than 500 highly experienced U.S. engineers and more than 130 technical staff to retirement when a pending interest rate shift would have greatly reduced their pension lump sum payout if they delayed.
And in October, Boeing began layoffs of about 150 people across the company in finance and accounting as their jobs were sent to Tata Consulting in India.
Kowal said that smaller reductions in certain corporate support areas may continue even as Boeing increases hiring in its core engineering and production units.
“While we plan to grow the total workforce in 2023, we’ll continue to simplify our corporate structure and expect lower staffing in some support functions,” she said.
Overall though, Boeing is growing again.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.