Kreg Smith builds jet engines at GE Aviation’s assembly plant in Evendale, Ohio. Smith makes nozzles that channel superheated air inside the high-pressure turbine that generates much of the engine’s power. “You have to look for the smallest cracks,” says Smith. “You can’t let anything slip by. I’ve learned that in the Army.”
Smith is one of 10,000 veterans employed by GE and an example of how the company connects with soldiers, taps their experience and skills, and trains them for high-tech manufacturing. It’s simple logic. U.S. companies estimate that there are about 600,000 open high-tech jobs waiting to be filled, and more than 82 percent of manufacturers report they cannot find people to fill their skilled production jobs. The 2.5 million skilled workers scheduled to retire over the next decade will make the shortage worse. At the same time, there are almost one million unemployed veterans. “The need is obvious,” says Jeff Immelt, GE chairman and CEO. “The challenge is matching their skills to our job openings and getting them the right jobs.”
That’s why GE and partners including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Alcoa, and the Manufacturing Institute launched the Get Skills to Work coalition today. The program will start by helping 15,000 veterans apply their military experience and skills to high-tech manufacturing jobs, like making planes or jet engines. The coalition is seeking additional partners to extend the assistance to 100,000 vets by 2015.
The program will help to train veterans, create a digital “badging system” to match their skills to job openings, and also help employers recruit and mentor veterans more effectively. Veterans in Ohio, North Carolina, New York, Texas, California, Washington, and Indiana can start applying for the program now. “When you add the technical proficiency and the list of intangible qualities from leadership to loyalty that they bring with them to the job, veterans are the perfect fit,” Immelt says
Just two summers ago Smith was deep inside the Sunni Triangle in Iraq at U.S. military base near the town of Balad. His company, the 327th Field Artillery Regiment out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was operating counter rocket systems at the base. “We tried to blow up mortars in the air before they could cause harm on the ground,” Smith says. Balad was his second tour in Iraq. In April 2003, his Army unit entered from Kuwait and gave the Marines artillery cover during the invasion.
Smith joined GE earlier this year. “I went on the GE Careers website every day to look for a job,” he says. He had already known something about jet engines. Both of his father and grandfather were engineers who spent decades working at GE. His next goal is an engineering degree. “I have a couple of years of school and I want to get back to it,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of breaks because of different military obligations. Now I want to hurry up and get my degree. I want to be a mechanical engineer.”