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Employees Have Other Options for Improving Their Skills

March 1, 1993
Related Topics: Career Development, Downsizing, Employee Career Development, Featured Article
Sometimes a misfortune becomes an opportunity. Such is the case for 2,600 people who worked at the General Motors' plant in Van Nuys, California. The plant ceased production last August 27, but not before making provisions for its workers. "We were able to take advantage of the plant's closure to give the employees an opportunity to increase their education," says Patrick Morrissey, a spokesperson for the Van Nuys plant.

The plant implemented a system to reward workers financially who enroll in educational programs. This is how the system works: All of the workers are entitled to collect 85% of their salaries for one year—or until the fund, out of which the salaries are paid, runs out of money. (The salaries are paid out of a Jobs Bank fund, which was calculated and set aside during the latest contract negotiations between GM and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) to protect laid-off employees. If the money ran out, the employees would be able to collect GM-supplemented unemployment for as much as 36 weeks in an amount equal to 85% to 95% of their pay.) Approximately half of the 2,600 workers have accepted this offer because they can continue to collect the 85% (without restriction) even if they begin employment elsewhere.

Employees can earn an additional 15% of their former salaries—or a total of 100%—if they enroll in an accredited educational program. This could include a community college, a four-year university, or a trade or vocational school.

Each of the 656 employees who have taken advantage of this opportunity to go to school must provide the plant with proof of registration for 12 units or 20 hours of classes. They also must turn in attendance reports once a month, signed by their instructors, and must submit their grades at the end of each quarter or semester. Al Carnahan, supervisor of education and training, and Jobs Bank coordinator at the Van Nuys plant, uses a data base to monitor the students in this section of the program. If any of the paperwork above is missing, Carnahan sends the student a letter requesting that he or she submit the missing information by the 15th of the next month. If he hasn't received a response by the 15th, he sends a telegram. Students then have five days to respond to the telegram. If they don't, Carnahan must terminate their funding.

In addition to collecting their salaries, employees who choose to seek a higher education can participate in the company's tuition-reimbursement program. General Motors will pay as much as $2,800 a year for degree-related courses. For courses that don't apply toward a degree, students can be reimbursed by the company for as much as $1,800.

Employees who aren't prepared to participate in a traditional educational program—whether because of poor language skills, a lack of previous educational experience or for any other reason—still have the opportunity to earn 100% of their salaries by enrolling in a GM-and-UAW-sponsored Skill Center on-site at the closed plant. The Skill Center offers employees the classes needed to upgrade their basic skills, earn a high-school diploma or prepare for college courses. The 130 employees who have chosen this means of continuing their education must attend classes at the center full-time (40 hours a week). As is the case at a community college, students at the Skill Center must maintain at least a C or 2.0 point average. Counseling is available for individuals who have problems meeting this requirement.

Personnel Journal, March 1993, Vol. 72, No. 3, p. 44.

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