Expansion and growth are the lifeblood of any manufacturing company. So, despite a tight labor market, investments are made and additional capacity is built.
This is certainly the case for GE Appliances (GEA), a Haier company, who in October of 2018 announced it was investing $200 million to expand its dishwasher and laundry manufacturing facilities in Louisville, Kentucky.
The expansion will create 400 jobs in addition to the 6,000 already employed at Appliance Park..
While that is excellent news for the industry, the city and the company, finding workers in an already tight labor market will require some clever programs. Luckily workforce innovation is in GE’s DNA.
In 2017 the company was an anchor for a Jefferson County Public Schools program called Learning Academies which was offered in high schools. The program started with 11 high schools and is now up to 14. And the program currently has 85 business partners.
In this program, every student receives a personalized experience within a small learning community; participates in hands-on, project-based learning; and develops 21st-century essential skills. After four years in an academy, graduates will have participated in summer employment, job shadowing experience, and senior-year apprenticeships and the ability. to earn industry credentials or college credits. Students leave with a postsecondary transition plan.
Another program that GE Appliances is involved in is called the region is the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME). It’s a partnership of regional manufacturers whose purpose is to implement dual track, apprenticeship-style training that will create a pipeline of highly skilled workers. The primary method to achieve this goal is through partnerships with local educational institutions to offer the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program.
Building upon the success of those programs, GEA introduced a couple more workforce programs. And one is especially high-tech. At Doss High School, which is part of the Academies program, students will be able to take a virtual tour of GE Appliances in March of 2019 and have a live web chat with employees who currently work at GEA. Students will be able to ask employees about career opportunities, job responsibilities and the education and experience students need to apply for these jobs in the future.
As part of the virtual classroom initiative, GEA is also aligning the program with the JCPS Backpack of Success Skills initiative. Students will be given a real-world manufacturing problem to solve for GE Appliances. The top students will present their projects to a panel of GEA executives.
“We are in the weeds when it comes to specific programs at the high school level," said Tom Quick, vice president of human resources for GEA. “And at the community college level, we want to make sure that those high school students have access to these programs. Having them in the same building is important to forge a career path as not everyone has a desire to continue to four-year colleges. Having exposure to the jobs available in manufacturing at this stage could steer them toward the field.”
Quick also envisions a point where the program, with its certifications, will attract adults in the community who might be looking for a different career.
Viewing the potential workforce from a broader scope is how Eric Leef, human resource manager for supply chain at GEA looks at talent development. “We have found that if you have a 360 approach to acquiring talent, it’s optimal. We have to look at everyone, and remember that some people have never considered manufacturing as a career.”
Another program GEA announced came out of the company’s staffing needs. It turns out that many people were opting to use vacation days on Monday and Friday and so bringing in workers on a part-time basis to work a couple of days solved the problem. The company expects the program to create an additional 150 part-time jobs for Appliance Park.
To entice a variety of workers the company offered tuition assistance.“We took the opportunity to change around our tuition assistance to either those people who were looking to go back to school or to those in school, who would be the best candidates for this type of part-time work,” said Quick. The company will provide up to $6,000 per year in college tuition.
This is also a way for the company to bring people in who wouldn’t view the company as full-time, such as women who are at home with children but would consider part-time positions.
Exploring different populations as potential workers has lead GEA to find a good new source of talent – recent immigrants. “In 2017 we reached out to a local partner who works with recent immigrants and found there was a good match for our company.”
Working with Refuge Louisville, GEA hires workers who enter the country as unrestricted workers and come from all over the world. In addition to the many languages spoken, there are many diverse talents as well.
“We are excited about this pipeline of new employees,” says Quick. He feels that GWA can offer a good career path and hopes this labor pool grows. With a range of skills sets, and a high rate of retention these new labor pool has been very beneficial for the company.
In fact, over the past couple of years, 10% of the company’s new hires are immigrants.
With all of these programs in place, perhaps GEA could relax a bit in its workforce strategies. “We aren’t resting on our laurels when it comes to talent development,” explains Quick. “We have been proactive for the past three years and will continue doing this.” And that includes expanding its reach with community organizations and other area businesses. In fact, this month GEA will host area businesses for a bi-annual meeting to brainstorm further.
“The war for talent is real,” says Leef. “You have to keep reinventing yourself in workforce development.”