GE adopts new contingent workforce model

The programme, centred in the US city of Detroit, has already improved the company's early-development and diversity pipelines.
By: | July 3, 2019

In 2015, General Electric’s digital hub in Detroit needed JAVA software developers. But instead of turning to in-house recruiters skilled at hiring experienced IT professionals with college degrees, the company tried a different approach.

It partnered with Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS), a 14 year-old non-profit that recruits, trains and places underserved and veteran job seekers into solid careers at established employers like GE and Prudential. So far, it has trained more than 5,000 people for positions ranging from project manager to help desk support. It has worked with 68 different employers in 19 US states, as well as France and the Netherlands. The company says the programme eliminates common barriers to employment by paying for daycare, housing, transportation, WiFi, and even college tuition for qualified candidates.

GE’s initial goal was to recruit 11 individuals, referred to as WOS consultants or contract interns, who represented the estimated 80% African-American community, explains Camille Bryant, who left her position in mid-May as executive HR business partner for GE’s digital hub in Detroit.

“We were looking for technical aptitude, primarily the ability for candidates to acquire knowledge quickly and apply it quickly,” she says. “WOS also partnered with the University of Michigan-Dearborn to develop a curriculum based on our needs and trained the consultants.”

Eleven out of 200 applicants were selected by WOS and GE and then trained for eight weeks. Bryant says 75% were African-American, and 31% were female. While GE invested six figures in the six-month programme, interns were classified as WOS consultants so they could receive benefits.

Ultimately, GE hired nine contract interns for full time positions and in 2017, added another 20 in Detroit and 17 in its New Orleans location. However, since GE was undergoing significant restructuring, Bryant says the retention rate across both cohorts was just 35%.

Meanwhile, some were lukewarm about the programme. HR had to coach leaders to be more open-minded about individuals with less education, technical skills and work experience. It also participated in round table discussions with interns, addressing issues like salary and career opportunities.

Looking ahead, Bryant suspects this programme will be routinely addressed at leadership meetings. Likewise, she believes leaders will be formally trained and attend monthly “lunch ‘n learn” events for updates, and to share concerns  or “elephants in the room”.

“The programme has absolutely improved our early development pipeline and diversity pipeline,” says Bryant, adding that the number of minorities in its New Orleans office quadrupled from less than 5% to more than 20%. “It’s definitely a non-traditional engagement that requires investment but it’s definitely worth it.”