It’s been almost a year, but the sights and sounds are never far from his thoughts: crowds of people surging toward departing planes, trampling those who stumble; gunshots ringing out; the explosion of a nearby bomb.
For Edris Akseer, now a bilingual recruiting coordinator at GE Appliances’ (GEA) Louisville headquarters, these memories are daily reminders of the horrors that he, his wife and his brothers endured in Afghanistan to get to the United States—and how different his situation is today.
- “That day [I left] was the worst day of my life,” recalled Akseer, a former translator for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan who was able to secure passage out through his U.S. military connections. “[But] I’m happy here. I really enjoy helping others and I find my job really interesting. … I saved enough to buy a car and I’m working on getting my driver’s license.”
Helping refugees: Akseer is one of more than 100 non-U.S.-born employees brought on in recent months by GEA in Louisville. About 50 are refugees from Afghanistan who came here last fall when the U.S. military exited the country. The other half are Spanish-speaking and hail from multiple nations.
- “In early 2022, we had a new production line–and we needed to hire over 1,300 people,” recalls GE Appliances Senior Manager Beth Mickle, who runs the production recruitment group at the company’s large campus in Kentucky.
- “Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries said they [were helping] a group of people from Afghanistan and said, ‘We think you would be a great employer for them. Would you be interested in taking a shot at this?’”
- GEA was interested—and opening the hiring process to refugees and other immigrants has been one of the best workforce decisions the company has made in recent memory, Mickle said.
Location, location: As a longtime U.S.-immigration entry point, Louisville has large populations of non-native-born people, said GE Appliances Workforce Development Recruiter Gabriela Salazar.
- These include people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cuba, Peru, Honduras, Venezuela and Mexico, said Salazar, who recently conducted a survey of languages spoken among GE Appliances employees. The findings: production staff at three factories communicate in a total of more than 40 languages.
- In a sense, working with charities to hire refugees is the next step in the company’s hiring practices. It “has helped us to tap into populations we might not have known how to tap into before,” Mickle said.
Learning as they go: GE Appliances now offers new-hire orientations in many languages, including Afghanistan’s official languages of Pashto and Dari, as well as Spanish and Swahili.
- The company also has a buddy system which pairs new employees with workers who have been at the facility for a while.
- “These are employees who volunteer to be points of contact, to help show people around,” Mickle said. “You know, ‘Where is the bathroom? ‘Where do I get my protective gear?’ We also translate all the new-hire documents [into native languages] because they won’t remember everything from their first day.”
- Recently GE Appliances hired an American Sign Language translator to help its deaf employees. “Where it started was different languages—and now we’re seeing a lot of new horizons,” Salazar said.
Onward and upward: Akseer has seen a lot of new horizons himself in the past few months.
- He was originally hired at GE Appliances as one of its much-needed production-line team members, but owing to his fluent English, compassion and constant willingness to help, Akseer was “always being pulled of the line to help translate” something for another new employee, according to Mickle.
- So when a translator role opened up on Mickle’s team mere months after his hiring, Akseer was in. “He was already doing the role of what we needed him to do. He’s just a natural teacher,” Mickle said.
- On top of the new country, the new company and the two new jobs in quick succession, Akseer underwent another major change: becoming a new father. His son was born shortly after the family came to the U.S.
Advice for other manufacturers: Hiring refugees and other immigrant workers has been a boon for GE Appliances, Mickle said, and other manufacturers should consider following suit if they can.
- “They are the first to raise their hands for overtime,” she said. “They work very, very hard. In [manufacturing], our jobs are not always the easiest. But they do it and they love it.”
The last word: “Manufacturers that bring on refugees see fewer turnovers and increased efficiency,” MI Vice President of Strategic Engagement and Inclusion AJ Jorgenson said. “They’re also helping to improve lives and communities. More inclusive workplaces strengthen manufacturing.”