Boeing employment levels off, but hiring continues

Employment at the Boeing Co. in Washington may have peaked in November. But that doesn’t mean the jet maker isn’t continuing to hire.

Boeing employment levels both worldwide and in Washington soared since early 2010 as the company increased jet production and strove to deliver on key development programs, such as the 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 jumbo jet.

For the first time since April 2010, the number of Boeing workers in Washington didn’t increase. At the end of November, the aerospace giant employed 86,775 people in the state, down 248 from October.

The topping out of employment was expected. Boeing’s chief financial officer in April predicted that employment would level off at some point this year. The company is balancing a slowdown in the defense market with high demand for commercial jets.

Companywide, Boeing shed 735 workers in November to bring global employment to 175,007. The bulk of losses were in the defense division, which has seen a steady decline in employment over the past two years, even as commercial-airplane employment increased.

Overall, the company is on track to hire between 12,000 and 15,000 people this year, said Stephen Davis, a spokesman for the company.

That’s not a net gain. Thousands of those new employees replace engineers and machinists who are retiring. The company faces a continuing challenge of replacing skilled workers and finding engineering talent.

“We are continuing to hire for critical skills,” Davis said.

Across the nation, fewer CEOs expect a decline in hiring over the next six months, based on a survey released Wednesday by the Business Roundtable. The roundtable consists of CEOs from the 200 largest U.S. corporations. Boeing CEO Jim McNerney serves as chairman of the Business Roundtable.

The CEOs voiced concern over the U.S. budget, which is approaching the “fiscal cliff” at the end of 2012. Automatic budget cuts, including in defense, will go into effect in January if a solution can’t be reached.

About 29 percent of the CEOs plan to increase hiring over the next six months, the same as in September, when the group released the previous quarterly survey. But only 29 percent expect hiring to decrease, versus 34 percent in the previous report.

McNerney said the country’s financial uncertainty was causing pessimism among CEOs.

“We will grow faster next year and the year after if we resolve this thing than we will if we don’t,” McNerney said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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