GE Aviation is a world leading manufacturer of commercial, military and business aviation jet and turboprop engines. Starting in 2005, their Asheville, NC site (Smiths Aerospace at the time) adopted an apprenticeship program designed to create a talent recruitment pipeline. Today bright students from local high schools and community colleges are recruited by GE Aviation to train and work as apprentice machinists.
GE Aviation and nearby Pisgah High School have a unique and mutually beneficial relationship. Pisgah has a CTE machining program that is taught by a former Smiths Aerospace employee, Chip Singleton. Their program provides an ideal pool of young, local and experienced candidates to recruit. As a result, the majority of current and former apprentices at GE Aviation are Pisgah High School graduates. A smaller number of apprentices are recruited from the local community colleges and high schools as apprentice positions become available.
As the industry and GE Aviation’s business needs change over time so does the machining curriculum at Pisgah High School. Human Resources Manager Sarah Bergeron said, “It [their apprenticeship program] only works if the high school has a program in manufacturing and machining. Otherwise, you couldn’t take a high schooler and bring them into an apprenticeship program.”
The apprenticeship program at GE Aviation is intentionally designed to be flexible based on business needs. This flexibility allows the company to recruit the exact number of apprentices needed at a given time and customize their training. The first six months of the apprenticeship include a heavy concentration of on-the-job-training (OJT). Bergeron said, “You can really teach them from the very beginning all the habits you want them to have, [and] the way you want them to look at the work.”
To motivate their apprentices to progress through their four-year program, GE Aviation’s employment contract stipulates that an apprentice must complete the community college courses and the OJT requirements to remain in the apprenticeship program. Once the course and OJT requirements are fulfilled, the apprentice is eligible to receive the federal and state Machinist Journeyworker Certificates. Eddie Aguirre is a graduated apprentice and said about OJT, “We always work as a team. There’s nothing they wouldn’t tell you to help you in your job.”
The apprenticeship program at GE Aviation has benefited the company and provided career opportunities to local students. Apprentices tend to be more flexible, have less turnover and have a deeper knowledge of the materials and products. Dakota Cowan, a current apprentice, said, “Apprenticeship is a lot of fun… It’s a good way to get your foot in the door at a well-known company.”