In an effort to alleviate the critical labor shortage, Southern California aircraft companies have developed a plan under which they employ male minors, boys of 16 and 17, on a co-operative education-production basis. Several thousand boys are employed by Lockheed and Vega (Vega recently was absorbed by Lockheed) in Burbank and at the Douglas plants in Santa Monica, El Segundo and Long Beach. Douglas also has a number of 16- and 17-year-old girl employees.
Forty-five high schools in Los Angeles county participate in the program. Burbank, Pasadena and Glendale were among the first to provide students under the four-four plan. At Lockheed and Vega, the boys either go to school four hours daily, or they work four weeks and go to school four weeks. Three four-hour shifts are available under the first arrangement. Boys who work on the four-week schedule have two full-time shifts, 7 AM to 3:30 PM and 1:30 to 10 PM. This is the first swing shift for boys on record. At Douglas, the boys work the four-hour schedule four hours of school and four hours of work. The majority of the minor workers at Douglas are employed on the swing shift. At both plants workers under 18 who are graduated from high school work a full shift.
School credit is given in vocational subjects for work done in the factory. This enables the boys to be graduated with their class on schedule. Each school system provides a co-coordinator a teacher who is given a regular visitor's pass to the plant and serves as boys' counselor.
El Monte Union High School accepted a bid by Douglas company to establish an assembly plant in the gymnasium on the campus. Under the four-four plan both boy and girl students work four hours daily. The plant is the only one of its kind in the country where school employees make up three of its four shifts of workers.
The boys are not placed in jobs that would be hazardous to their health or well being. They soon prove capable of doing most jobs adult workers do. Two Pasadena schoolboys, working on the Plexiglas hatches of the Lockheed Lightnings, tied the department record for speed that had been set up by a team of three men. One of these, 17-year-old Robert Woolnough, has been able to do more work with less breakage of tools than anyone ever assigned to this job. He broke only two drills in two days. Usually a new man on this job breaks from 12 to 18 drills a day.
The boys require little supervision during the training period because they are familiar with tools through the modern school curriculum which stresses vocational subjects. The kid jalopy mechanic is soon converted to a full-fledged war worker. Most of them study blueprint reading, drafting, metallurgy and trade mathematics to supplement their factory work.
Among the various jobs the boys have been assigned are those of form block makers, skin fitters, welders, riveters, detail draftsman, turret lathe operators, filers and burrers, metal fitters, tool makers, process and heat-treating, plumbers, machine shop trainees and junior service mechanics, who help install and overhaul motors.
Many of the boys are in non-productive activities such as blueprint control clerk, tool crib attendant, mail boy, production control clerk, hand truck operators, shipping and spare parts clerks, stock room assistants and several are inspectors. Sixteen-year-old Leonard Gardner, inspector of electrical equipment at Douglas is working to buy a car and to pay his tuition at radio technology school. He holds an amateur and second class commercial radio license.
Five mathematics students who had two years of drafting are in template design, learning to be tool and die designers at Vega. One boy is in manufacturing planning, a department that governs the flow of planes and material through the factory.
Several hundred boys at Douglas do general assembly in the Skymaster hangar and a number are in the cowling section of the Havoc. Some of them are general installers (hydraulic, electrical, radio and armament). Eight boys who install armament on the Flying Fortresses and Ventura bombers at Vega, are the envy of the rest of the boys in the factory because they get to handle machine guns. One of them, 17-year-old Dick Fox, won a bet by oiling and putting together a .50-caliber machine gun blindfolded in 20 minutes. He had bet he could do it in 30. Three weeks after he came to work he was so enthusiastic he talked his grandmother and grandfather into coming to work at Vega. They are both over 60. She is in process and heat treating and he is in final assembly.
In some instances, boys who work on the four hour shift and double duty adult workers (those who work four hours in defense plants in addition to their regular work) keep machines from standing idle by maintaining one machine on a full-time shift.
The boys are identified by a small star on their badges at Lockheed, the blue background on their badges at Vega and "M" (for minor) at Douglas. There is a high competitive spirit between the various high schools. The boys take a real interest in the daily work chart which shows how each shift stacks up and they do their best to see that nobody beats their shift.
Mort Bach, Vega works manager, declared: "Boypower is the biggest single stimulus to employment since the introduction of women in the factory. It has provided us with some of our outstanding workers and our fewest employee problems." The boys have the lowest absentee rate of any group in the factory.
The boys are all keen aviation enthusiasts and the majority of them build model airplanes. George Marygold, 17, one of the first boys hired at Vega, has two inventions that Vega is now investigating and may patent. One is a 3/8-inch box wrench to replace the open end type for installing switches on panels.
These boys are chosen as a result of IQ tests, scientific block-placing and other aptitude tests, together with their school records. Like all other employees they must pass physical examinations and furnish proof of citizenship. The boys are eligible for workmen's compensation insurance and the rate of pay is the same as for adult workers. They invest part of their pay checks in war bonds and the majority of the boys at Lockheed contribute to the "buck-of-the-month club" for charity.
The four-four plan has the endorsement of leading educators and public officials, among them Walter F Dexter, California state director of education. Vierling Kersey, superintendent of schools for the city of Los Angeles, feels that the plan has so much to recommend it that it should be continued not only through the war emergency but during normal times as well. The boys work under a constructive form of factory discipline. Failure to maintain factory work standards, failure in school subjects, or illegal absence from school result in their being separated from the payroll.
This article was originally published in the February, 1944, issue of Flying magazine, vol 34, no 2, pp 70-71, 170.
The PDF of this article includes three photos of high-school and Junior College students on the production line at Lockheed or Douglas,
Photos credited to Lockheed, Douglas.