Matthews had no manufacturing experience when she walked into GM’s assessment, which tested applicants’ skills building vehicle doors. The assessor’s reassurance put her at ease.
“She was fabulous, and she just made me relaxed right away,” Matthews said. “She’s like, ‘You got this,’ and she showed me, and we did it and I felt so good after.”
Thomson said GM designed the door-building simulation to eliminate gender bias, employing an equal number of male and female assessors and testing the process to ensure gender did not influence passing rates.
Over three months last spring, GM put about 5,000 applicants through door building. Using the scores as a rough basis for hiring decisions, it began onboarding for production assignments in August and trained new staff through the fall.
Because manufacturing experience was not a requirement, Thomson said, management was prepared for a different approach to training.
“The learning curve is going to look a little bit different when you bring in less-experienced team members, but we think in order to achieve the diversity goal and create this vision we had for what the workplace culture would look like, that that’s a sacrifice we were more than willing to make.”
Having more women in the plant also required rethinking how space was divided. Washroom and shower room distribution, originally skewed toward a larger male workforce, needed to be reworked. Compared with the even split today, Thomson said, the plant in its 2019 incarnation was about 18-per-cent to 20-per-cent women. That breakdown is still prevalent in many automotive manufacturing environments.
‘A WELCOMING FACTOR’
Auto manufacturing can still be a lonely place for women, said Jennifer Green, a 10-year veteran of the industry and now director of competitions at Skills Ontario, an organization focused on promoting the skilled trades as a career option for young Ontarians. “But companies showing they have supports in place can help change that.
“Being public and open with what you have, to show that, ‘Hey, we’ve got your back,’ really does have a comfort level and a welcoming factor that makes women want to go to those kinds of companies.”
Other automakers, and women considering the industry, are likely to take notice of examples such as GM’s, Green said.
“It’s a really great domino-and-chain effect, that if it can happen there, will it start to happen in other plants? Will it help to effect the community and the region around them?”
Three months into production at Oshawa of the Chevrolet Silverado HD pickup — the plant will start building the light-duty Silverado this spring — the positivity of the environment has stayed “infectious,” Thomson said.
Now, with most of the hiring completed, his team is turning its efforts to building a sustainable culture.
Both MacLeod and Matthews are eager to play a part. Pointing to the early and easy sense of camaraderie, both see themselves staying with the automaker for the long haul.
“There’s a lot of different opportunities I can see myself filling my time with,” MacLeod said.
Details about the makeup of plant-floor personnel in Oshawa have also reached the U.S. parent company. GM said it will use the lessons learned “to inform future recruiting efforts across the company.”