In 2015, General Electric’s digital hub in Detroit needed JAVA software developers. But instead of turning to inhouse recruiters skilled at hiring experienced IT professionals with college degrees, the company tried a different approach.
It partnered with Workforce Opportunity Services, a 14 year-old nonprofit 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, worked with 68 different employers in 19 states, France and the Netherlands and 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 percent 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 percent were African American and 31 percent were female. While GE invested six figures in the six-month program, 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 percent.
Meanwhile, some were lukewarm about the program. 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 program will be routinely addressed at leadership meetings. Likewise, she believes leaders will be formally trained and attend monthly lunch ‘n learns for updates and to share concerns or “elephants in the room.”
“The program 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 five percent to more than 20 percent. “It’s definitely a nontraditional engagement that requires investment but it’s definitely worth it.”