As they’ve evolved into the 21st century, GE Appliances and other manufacturing companies across the United States have had to address the challenge of reconciling growth―and the talent needs that come with it― with a shortage of qualified candidates, particularly for entry-level and mid-level skilled jobs. Of those who have applied for roles, many have not been prepared to do the work, and high turnover rates hurt efficiency.
More than 3,800 production workers are employed at GE Appliances’ global headquarters alone. There, the company manufactures washing machines and dryers, dishwashers and bottom-freezer refrigerators. The talent shortage posed threats not only to the future growth of GE Appliances, but of other manufacturers in the region as well.
The company resolved to take a leadership role in addressing the workforce skills gap―especially in its headquarters city of Louisville, Kentucky. With a total of 6,000 employees in Louisville, GE Appliances is one of the region’s largest employers. The appliance leader spearheaded a multiyear initiative to create a pipeline of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing jobs. The initiative has become a national model for helping build the next generation of American manufacturers.
Taking the Lead
It was in 2014 that GE Appliances sounded the alarm in Greater Louisville. One of the region’s most recognizable brands and largest employers, the company was struggling to fill the jobs it was reshoring. Too few qualified candidates were pursuing manufacturing roles. Leaders knew this wasn’t a company-specific issue, but a communitywide problem. Without a qualified workforce, manufacturing companies throughout the region could not grow. GE Appliances took a proactive, leading role in articulating the problem, identifying potential solutions and marshalling the community’s resources. It took a multiyear initiative and consistent collaboration.
GE Appliances convened the first-ever meeting of Greater Louisville manufacturers and community leaders, which issued a multifaceted plan for creating systemic change. The company led many of the plan’s initiatives, invested in educational programs and developed new ways of promoting manufacturing careers. Its executives took the lead in key community programs. The effort created a blueprint for cultivating and sustaining the manufacturing workforce of the future. When executing the strategy within GE Appliances, the company focused on three core pillars: Talent Diversity, Talent Payback and Talent Partnership.
GE Appliances is committed to fostering diversity at all levels of the organization. To develop the pipeline of qualified entry-level and mid-skilled workers, the company intentionally sought out underserved populations in the community. As part of this initiative, GE Appliances’ leadership lobbied for Certified Production Technician (CPT) training to become part of the curriculum offered by KentuckianaWorks, the region’s workforce development agency. This effort hatched a CPT program for non-native speakers that introduces manufacturing technology while improving participants’ English skills. Participants with criminal backgrounds who complete CPT training are given the same consideration for hiring.
GE Appliances is also a lead employer in the mayor’s SummerWorks program, intended to counteract the skyrocketing unemployment rate among Louisville’s youth. In its third year, GE Appliances hired 88 high school students for full-time positions for an eight-week period. Students are onboarded like traditional new hires, spending two days in orientation and mastering the mock assembly line. They spend the last three days of their onboarding in an intensive training session focused on financial literacy, résumé building and professional behavior.
This focus on talent diversity is paying dividends. In the past year, about 12% of GE Appliances’ new hires have been non-native speakers. More than 350 new hires have come from targeted economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Nineteen students from the mayor’s SummerWorks program have joined the GE Appliances team permanently.
During fall 2018, GE Appliances launched its newest talent diversity initiative to help fill the talent pipeline: GEA2DAY. Beyond diversifying the talent pool, the program also addresses a significant business need: improving the rate of absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays. GE Appliances developed a part-time, two-day-a-week workforce. With GEA2DAY, employees work dedicated shifts on Mondays and Fridays, totaling 16 hours. Participating employees are eligible for tuition reimbursement up to $6,000 a year. In partnership with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), GEA2DAY has been incorporated as a potential work option for high school seniors during the school day. Beyond high school students, GEA2DAY is an option for college students, as well as those looking for consistent part-time work.
Although manufacturers compete for job candidates, GE Appliances recognized the value of bringing manufacturers together to solve a common problem. The company convened employers to align their resources and use their collective voice in the community to drive change. This collaboration led to the development of the Greater Louisville chapter of the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KYFAME), a work-and-learn program that connects manufacturers with high-achieving high school students over a two-year timeframe.
Participating manufacturers provide the hands-on training, while Jefferson Community & Technical College (JCTC) provides relevant coursework chosen by employers. The combination of on-site technical training and in-class curriculum designed to fit industry needs produces skilled workers ready for today’s advanced manufacturing. After two years, each student earns an applied associate’s degree in Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMT) and 70 to 80 college credit hours, incurring little to no education debt in the process.
GE Appliances spearheaded the Greater Louisville KYFAME chapter, providing leadership, applying company resources and funding its launch. Subsequently, a high-level manufacturing executive served as president to provide the vision and direction the program required for success. GE Appliances also ran the student experience committee, which included leading recruitment initiatives, matching students with appropriate manufacturers, coaching students in professional behaviors and planning the annual graduation celebration. The company made additional investments, with a $350,000 donation to build the JCTC Advanced Manufacturing and IT Center (AMIT), where KYFAME classes are held.
This multifaceted initiative takes a long view of talent development, and payback is in the form of a pipeline of qualified workers to enable long-term business growth. In 2017, the company achieved its best sales numbers in more than a decade, and plant operational efficiency continues to grow.
GE Appliances’ leaders knew the shortage of qualified workers was a communitywide problem. That’s why it convened and led the first-ever meeting of Greater Louisville manufacturers and community leaders to work together to address the issue. The group issued "A Blueprint for Bridging the Industrial Skills Gap," a three-part plan for creating systemic change that would create a better-prepared workforce. One year later, GE Appliances hosted the region’s first Manufacturing Summit, and participating employers and community leaders issued "The Community Playbook for Greater Louisville Manufacturing Workforce Development," a multi-faceted strategy to support the growth of manufacturing in the region.
GE Appliances used its position and reputation in the community to forge partnerships, rally community support and drive the execution of these plans. The company acted in partnership with many others to help rebuild the pipeline of qualified workers. After years of division during manufacturing’s decline, manufacturing careers are back in the limelight in Greater Louisville.
GE Appliances is an inaugural employer partner with the Jefferson County Public Schools to improve educational attainment and career choice options for students graduating from high school. JCPS has introduced a career path educational program in 14 high schools known as the Academies of Louisville. This initiative has students selecting desired courses of study that align to a career path of their choosing. GE Appliances is partnered with Doss High Schools to support its manufacturing, computer science and business Academy pathways. The company’s efforts inside and outside the classroom allow students to gain real-world insights into future career options, while still students in high school. Opportunities for dual-credit with JCTC and/or industry certifications provide a graduating student with a jump-start into a future career or field of study at the college level.Employer partnerships have systemically changed the way the region’s students are prepared and have elevated career opportunities to attract candidates in the following ways:
- Today, middle school students may first consider a manufacturing career through participation in a GE Appliances Virtual Field Trip or by engaging in Junior Achievement programs. When students are ready for high school, they’re already familiar with manufacturing and, as a result, more likely to choose a school that offers new, apprentice-style classes.
- While training as part of their high school classes, students might try a manufacturing job in the SummerWorks or GEA2DAY programs and apply for operator positions after graduation. If they choose to pursue a four-year college degree, GE Appliances’ Manufacturing Co-Op and Supply Chain Development programs can enrich their experience.
- Students who want an alternative to four-year college programs might enroll in KYFAME to become mid-level skilled workers. The AMT degree earned in KYFAME also can be the foundation for more trades training or continued college education.
- Once part of the GE Appliances team, production and salaried employees continue to develop competencies in the company’s new Manufacturing Training Center. They may also choose to participate in the company’s maintenance apprenticeship program, which has relaunched after years of inactivity.
Through partnerships with other manufacturers, community organizations, public agencies and school systems, GE Appliances has changed the way manufacturing careers are viewed in the Greater Louisville area and how young people are prepared for the workforce. The partnership’s initiatives have influenced tens of thousands of people, ranging from middle-schoolers to adults. In Greater Louisville, the pipeline of skilled and entry-level workers is growing more robust each year, thanks to these sustainable initiatives.
Changing the Manufacturing Landscape
Today, the pipeline of workers is more robust than it has been in recent memory. The talent breakthrough GE Appliances has helped drive manifests one of the company’s guiding principles: “Partnerships matter. We do better together.” After decades of decline, U.S. manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence, and Greater Louisville is at the forefront of manufacturing growth. The Louisville area’s manufacturing sector is an $11 billion industry, representing 17% of the region’s economic activity and 13% of regional employment. From 2009 to 2015, Kentucky added manufacturing jobs at three times the national rate.
For more information about the groundbreaking workforce development initiatives GE Appliances is leading in Greater Louisville, take a look at the strategic assets that serve as a foundation for regional efforts: