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GM May Expand New-Hire Networking Despite Cuts

March 29, 2006
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As strange as it might sound, General Motors is continuing its networking program for new employees. The job-shedding company is even talking about expanding the initiative called JumpStart.

   The goal of JumpStart, which has been around for six years, is to indoctrinate new hires into GM’s culture, give them the chance to meet employees in other parts of the company and get exposure to the firm’s business leaders, says Cheri Alexander, executive director of global human resources.

   "The vision of JumpStart was really to build enthusiasm for the company in our new-hire population," she says. "We believe by doing this, new hires will be productive faster."

   New hires can join up to five JumpStart committees, each focusing on a different aspect of company culture. The marketing initiatives committee focuses on how GM can grow its market share. The professional development committee holds book club meetings with GM’s business leaders and hears senior executives speak about career growth. The community services committee reaches out to such groups as elderly people in nursing homes. The social committee is just that: Participants do things like play volleyball or go out for drinks.

   Each committee is run by senior JumpStart members who have been with the program for a couple of years. The program currently has 800 participants. More than 70 percent of new hires in the Michigan area, where the program is offered, join it, Alexander says.

   JumpStart helps new hires stay encouraged about the firm’s future by inviting business leaders to talk about the new products coming out, says Kathie Vosganian, a human resources representative who is on the JumpStart professional development committee.

   For example, at the end of each year, a senior executive talks to participants about what GM is focusing on in the coming year. Featured speakers have included CEO Rick Wagoner and Katy Barclay, vice president of global human resources.

   Building and maintaining such enthusiasm is more important than ever given GM’s predicament, observers say. In November, GM said it would eliminate 30,000 manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and Canada by 2008. Often, new-hire training and networking programs are the first things to go when companies make such cuts, and that’s a mistake, says Diane Durkin, president of Loyalty Factor, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, consulting firm.

   "Keeping new hires focused during hard times is crucial because it will keep them productive," she says. Disengaged workers only produce 50 percent of what engaged workers do, according to Loyalty Factor.

   Because of JumpStart’s popularity among new hires at corporate headquarters, GM is discussing offering it to those coming aboard in Mexico and Canada, Alexander says. On top of giving new hires the opportunity to network, GM believes that it helps them realize other opportunities within the company, she says.

   Having such programs are important, but GM should be careful that the outings don’t become outlets for employees who are worried about their futures, warns Susan Wehrley, president of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates, a consulting firm in Brookfield, Wisconsin. "That could really sabotage the intent of the program," she says.

   But that hasn’t been an issue so far, Alexander says. "If employees are concerned about their situation, we encourage them to talk to their supervisors."

Workforce Management, March 27, 2006, p. 16 -- Subscribe Now!

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