GE Appliances is working to employ 1,000 people in its Louisville factories by 2023. Its secret weapon in a competitive job market: a modern program to employ Afghan refugees, immigrants and others for whom English is a second language.
eIdris Aksir fled Afghanistan last summer with his family and two brothers after the Taliban seized power. He finally arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, and landed a job on a refrigerator production line at GE Appliances’ plant there in March.
Osair, who has a university degree from Kabul University and formerly worked as a translator for the US Army, soon became the factory’s turn to other Afghans. says Aksir, 30, who also helped found an institute in Afghanistan to teach boys and girls English, computer programming and other subjects.
GE Home Appliances is recruiting more Afghans, hundreds of whom have settled in Louisville, as well as other refugees and bilingual workers at its sprawling factory, which employs more than 5,000 blue-collar workers. Aksir soon gave an interview to GE’s human resources department, and took on a role helping to recruit and train other Afghan refugees.
“It’s very exciting for Afghans to come here. We’ve never had a factory like this, so when you see something like this you’re excited about it,” he says. When Afghans (many of whom help support family in Afghanistan) come for interviews at the factory, he says, “They see that the factory is well organized and that people are well paid and have a chance to work overtime.”
GE Appliances is the latest company to set up a refugee employment program, which studies show stay in jobs longer than their native-born counterparts. The company, owned by Chinese consumer electronics group Haier, has hired 40 refugees from Afghanistan for manufacturing jobs at its Louisville factory, out of a total of 90 people who speak English as a second language, since the program began in February.
The company provides interpreters, and has translated more than 100 health, safety and employment documents into multiple metrics. A company spokeswoman says that on the factory floor, a total of 42 languages are spoken. GE plans to host nine more orientations for ESL employees before the end of the year in an effort to ramp up recruitment efforts for refugees, immigrants, and those for whom English is a second language.
The initiative comes as the number of refugees around the world has ballooned since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine, while the job market for manufacturing jobs in the United States has become increasingly tight. Louisville (population approximately 620,000) is a competitive market for blue-collar workers because it is a logistics center and home to a large Ford plant.
Meanwhile, GE appliance has been growing since its split from General Electric in 2016. Haier Smart Home, the publicly traded subsidiary of Haier that owns it, announced 2021 revenue from More than $10 billion at current exchange rates. Last year, the company announced that it would invest $450 million in a group of factories called Appliance Park, where it makes washers, dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers. Along with the new investment, GE Appliances plans to hire 1,000 new people by the end of 2023.
In late 2021, as the company began thinking about how to fill those opportunities, it began an initiative to hire people whose first language isn’t English to work in factories, says Beth Meikle, a talent acquisition manager. “We thought this could help broaden our range of candidates,” she says. Gabriela Salazar, a Spanish speaker, brought in as a recruit focused on bilingual assignments.
For the refugee program, the company worked in coordination with nonprofit Catholic charities and the Kentucky Refugee Ministries that were already helping to resettle refugees. They said, ‘Are you interested in or willing to hire referees? We said, ‘Yeah, we can do that, we can support him,'” Meckel says. So far, 89% of those hired through the program are still in the business.
Efforts to place refugees in factories have a long history. Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani Corporation, a billionaire, a Kurd who grew up in eastern Turkey, has been one of the strongest and oldest proponents of refugee employment. He started hiring refugees for his yogurt company, then founded the non-profit Tent to help businesses support refugees. “The moment a refugee gets a job, it’s the moment he stops being a refugee” Ulukaya said.
A 2018 report commissioned by Tent found that the average refugee turnover in industrial firms was just 4%, well below 11% for all employees. Across industries, 73% of employers surveyed reported a higher refugee retention rate than other employees. Although Tent has not updated this research, associate director of Tent Yaron Schwartz, who leads the nonprofit in the United States, says these high retention rates have continued anecdotally. “When companies invest in refugees, refugees are very loyal and grateful for the job opportunity, and they often stay with the company and often take on leadership roles,” he says.
last fall, 32 major companiesIncluding Amazon, Facebook, Pfizer, Tyson Foods and UPS – they have announced that they will join Tent’s network of companies dedicated to training and hiring Afghan refugees. today, More than 100 companies They joined the Tent Coalition for Refugees in the United States, which has expanded beyond its original focus on Afghan refugees.
Chobani’s company has employed many refugees in its factories in upstate New York and Idaho. Pfizer has recruited 50 refugees to date through its Refugee Leadership Initiative; Tyson has worked to integrate Afghan refugees into its factories through ESL initiatives, Schwartz says. Tent provides resources to companies in its network to help them recruit and train refugees, and holds recruitment events in partnership with local nonprofits in areas with large refugee populations, including Los Angeles, Houston and Northern Virginia. Salazar says GE set up its program on its own and wasn’t part of the Tent network, but has since been in touch with the nonprofit.
While Tent does not have aggregate data on how many refugees have been employed as a result of its efforts, Schwartz says corporate interest has increased over the past year with the Afghan and Ukrainian refugee crises. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of interest from the business community because of the urgency of refugee crises around the world and the labor shortage in the United States and the economy,” he says.
The number of refugees in the world swelled to 27.1 million By the end of 2021, according to the Commission. More than two-thirds of them come from just five countries, Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar. The data predates Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has It resulted in 5.4 million refugees.
As for Aksir, many of his family, including four sisters, remain in Afghanistan, and he tries to support them with his job at the factory – and talks to them several times a week. “All these efforts and 20 years are back to zero,” he says. “It is very heartbreaking for all Afghans.”