Sherri Lee

As the space industry shifts gears, Lee maintains the momentum at United Space Alliance

QuoteI think our boldest accomplishment over the past several years has been managing the space shuttle program while administering multiple headcount reduction activities. As the shuttle missions came to completion, layoff activities were also happening. That was a huge challenge for us, because we were not only working to perform on active contracts but we were also closing out other contracts. We were seeing friends and coworkers depart United Space Alliance as their jobs were complete, and that continues to happen to a lesser degree.

Throughout the shuttle transition, employees were encouraged to have a plan B, so they could be comfortable moving forward. We coordinated career workshops and even worked with the other shuttle contractors that were also being affected to organize mass job fairs. We partnered with the local universities, and also worked with the state and local governments in Florida and Texas to provide resources to employees long before they needed it—sometimes years before they were scheduled to transition. This was all part of enabling employees to eventually move on to other gainful employment and their future endeavors.

The strategy carried a big risk for us, because on the one hand you want to support your employees in their search for a new job, but on the other hand you’re also trying to motivate them to stay and complete work on the objectives we still needed to accomplish. It really did pay off for us, though, because we were able to successfully fly out the shuttle program. We unfortunately experienced some reductions in personnel while doing that. But throughout that challenging time, we had a very low voluntary attrition rate, our employees actually improved quality and performance, and the final shuttle flights were described by NASA officials as some of the cleanest ever flown.

There are a lot of unknowns in our industry right now. NASA’s emphasis is on allowing commercial companies to do more of the next vehicle development work, and that has the potential to provide them with multiple hardware options going forward. There’s a passion here, in that every person is somehow connected to space. And what makes us proud is that, because we’re so focused on supporting our employees, some of our former coworkers are now working for those commercial companies that are getting these contracts. Quote