GE Appliances taps JCPS students to avoid production bottlenecks

GE Appliances COO Melanie Cook introduces the company’s GEA2DAY initiative. Speakers included JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio, right; Doss High School Principal Todd Stockwell, left; and, next to him, Doss High School senior David Lowley Jr. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

GE Appliances has created 150 part-time positions in Louisville to help avoid production bottlenecks that arise when workers extend their weekends by taking off Mondays and Fridays.

The manufacturer, which employs about 6,000 at Appliance Park in Louisville, has partnered with Jefferson County Public Schools to offer at least some of the jobs to Doss High School seniors.

Company officials told Insider Louisville that the venture, which could cost GEA $1 million per year, would stabilize production and cultivate a greater talent pool, while school officials said students would gain much-needed experience beyond the classroom and might learn about careers they had not previously considered.

“This is about creating a pipeline,” said Eric Leef, GEA’s executive human resources director for supply chain.

The program, called GEA2DAY, will have students work eight hours each Monday and Friday for $14 per hour and pay them $6,000 toward college tuition. Leef said the company expects the part-time jobs also to be filled by college students and people who are just looking for a stable part-time job.

The students likely will be assigned to one of the park’s buildings, where they will fill in for entry-level jobs in refrigerator, dishwasher or washing machine production. Leef said entry-level jobs in Appliance Park are similar, which will allow the part-timers to switch between tasks from one shift to another.

Like many other employers, GE Appliances and other manufacturers have struggled to find and retain workers in a tight labor market. About a year ago, the appliance maker raised its entry-level pay by $2 to $14 because it was losing workers to other local manufacturers that were offering better pay. But the company also has forged close relationships with educational institutions including JCPS to bolster its applicant pipeline.

Courtesy of KentuckianaWorks

Recently, the company said, it has struggled more with worker shortages at the beginning and at the end of the week, as employees take personal time to extend their weekends. The shortages have meant that parts of the manufacturing operations have shut down, as plant leaders reassign remaining workers to critical areas.

But, Leef said, that band-aid solution made steady production more difficult, prompting company officials to get together to figure out a more stable solution: GEA2DAY.

“We said, you know, we’re going to try something different’,” Leef said.

Todd Stockwell

Doss High School Principal Todd Stockwell told Insider that students will enjoy wages and tuition help, but “the biggest benefit is the real-world experience.”

Students will get to learn first-hand about working in a manufacturing environment, and they will get to learn marketable skills, from showing up for work on time to handling tools and working in teams.

The experience will open students’ eyes to a lot of opportunities, Stockwell said.

Doss senior David Lowley Jr., one of three students who will participate this year, already has completed his interviews and medical screenings at GEA and is scheduled to soon begin learning about appliance assembly.

Lowley Jr. said he developed an interest in manufacturing through tinkering with cars and because it reminds him of the work he did with his late father, David Lowley Sr., with whom he laid tile in the family home or repaired bathroom fixtures.

“I’ve always worked hands-on,” Lowley Jr. told Insider.

He especially enjoys working on the 1966 Ford Mustang he inherited and the 1994 Mustang GT he drives. His next project: Installing a cold-air intake on the newer Mustang to boost engine performance.

Lowley Jr. said that he looks forward to working at GEA and likely will take college courses to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement, though a college degree will be merely a backup, as he said he’s pretty sure he will remain in manufacturing.

The school work he will miss on Mondays and Fridays will be made up during the rest of the week. School officials said that many seniors have a study hall or electives in their final year, which can be replaced with additional instruction in more critical academic fields such as math and English.

While Lowley Jr. will drive to GEA, Stockwell said that transportation options for other students will be determined case by case.

The principal said that he expects more of Doss’ 240 seniors to participate in the program next year. About 55 of the students have chosen a manufacturing path, but other interested students, too, can apply to participate in the GEA program.

Virtual classroom

Another new initiative, which will bring GE Appliances into classrooms via monitors and live chats with employees, company officials hope to introduce students to manufacturing careers earlier in the youngsters’ academic careers.

Beginning in March, JCPS students will be able to ask current GEA employees about their work, career opportunities, and required experience.

Leef said the effort allows the company to reach a broader group of students, especially those who have not yet made up their minds about their career path. Many young people make career decisions without being aware of opportunities in the manufacturing sector, he said.

To a certain extent, manufacturers also are battling a reputational legacy as a dirty, smelly, low-skill industry, especially among parents, teachers and guidance counselors who may be steering students away from viable, interesting and potentially lucrative careers.

GEA said the virtual classroom experience also is scalable, meaning the company can easily expand the effort to other schools, within and outside of JCPS, Louisville and Kentucky.