The Secrets to a 50-year Career? Constant Change, Challenges

June 9, 2017 Arin Karimian

John Gardenour at his 50th service anniversary

Companies are more likely to hire candidates who they believe will be long-term employees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, though, the median tenure of workers with their current employer is 4.2 years.

If the new hire is a Millennial, their tenure could be even less. A new LinkedIn study found that recent college graduates typically change companies three or four times in their first decade as a professional.

These statistics make the career of John Gardenour that much more remarkable. In October, Gardenour celebrated his 50th service anniversary. A senior system integration analyst who prepares training materials and courses for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Gardenour's career started before the first Moon landing.

Gardenour joined a division of IBM — a predecessor to Loral Corp., which preceded Lockheed Martin's Information Systems and Global Solutions (IS&GS), which became Leidos — in 1966 following high school. For the next eight years, he worked as a communications systems technician for the Apollo/Saturn program in Cape Canaveral, Fla. He attended night and weekend courses during this time and obtained his college degree in engineering technology.

But completing an education while holding down a 40-hour job isn’t something he recommends.

"Get your degrees before you start working full-time," said Gardenour. "It's possible to balance work and school, but the weight of the two can be considerable."

After Cape Canaveral, Gardenour transferred to an IBM plant in Owego, N.Y. in 1974 to design test equipment for various U.S. Department of Defense programs. When IBM returned to the Kennedy Space Center for the Space Shuttle program in 1979, so did Gardenour. Four years later, he moved to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as part of a special six-member crew to convert an old launch complex into a west coast launch site for the Space Shuttle program. However, due to budget, safety, and other considerations, the site was never used.

Following the closeout of the Vandenberg assignment, Gardenour moved to Atlantic City to support IBM's installation and test of a new mainframe system for the FAA. The system became the backbone of U.S. air traffic control for more than 30 years. In 1990, Gardenour returned to the space industry, transferring to the Johnson Space Center to design ground checkout equipment for the Space Station program.

"My interest in the space industry was probably a given considering I was born and raised on what is now known as the Space Coast, when space travel was in its infancy," said Gardenour. "In the mid-to-late '60s, I was active in my school’s science club and built receivers to keep track of the Mercury and Gemini launches."

Gardenour returned to FAA work with IBM in 1994, shortly before the company sold its Federal Systems Division to Loral. Two years later, Lockheed Martin acquired Loral. During this time, Gardenour became the En Route Automation Modernization (ERAM) integration lead, helping transform the air traffic control industry.

With Leidos and IS&GS merging earlier this year, Gardenour now develops ERAM training assets for the FAA. As one of the engineers who helped launch ERAM, he's uniquely qualified for the role and proud of his work.

"I value the members of my team and feel an obligation to support them in our endeavor to present a product to our customer that I know is the best we can offer," said Gardenour. "After 50 years, I'm ready to enjoy the fruits of my labors but it's very hard to leave my team."

It's likely that many of his Leidos colleagues feel the same way about their own teams. Of the 33,000 employees at Leidos, one-third has 11-plus years of service while almost 20 percent have 15-plus. What might these long tenures be attributed to?

"Leidos has consistently been good to its employees and made them feel valued. As a company, we acknowledge that our people are what make it great," said talent acquisition operations lead Michelle Carper.

"One thing that makes Leidos stand out from our competitors is that employees have a voice and are heard."

Such a culture empowers employees to explore other roles and challenges within the company.

"We have an abundant amount of opportunities across so many different markets," said Carper. "Our diverse business interests really inspire employees to think about what they want to do next with Leidos."

More John Gardenours are out there. The challenge for Leidos and other companies is to find them, and more importantly, retain them.

Leidos is one of LinkedIn's 50 Top Companies of 2017, which is their list of corporations "Where the world wants to work now." We address some of the globe’s toughest challenges in the defense and intelligence, health, and civil markets. Our employees develop innovative solutions and support vital missions in both the public and private sector. Click here to browse our current openings.


Arin Karimian

Arin is the Corporate Content Lead at Leidos. He creates and curates content across a wide range of topics -- familiar territory for someone who's worked in banking, health care, media, and the non-profit space.

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