It may be a sign of the times: GE Aviation’s Wilmington plant anticipates a need for 70 more manufacturing employees, and has posted “We’re Hiring”-type messages on area billboards, a move not seen before in Wilmington from the organization.
Anthony Parnell, senior employee human resources manager at GE Aviations’s Wilmington plant, said in an email this week that the approach is something new for the company.
“The billboards are part of a new awareness and recruiting focus at the Wilmington site,” Parnell said. “We obviously would love to hire local talent, so the objective is to reach local talent in a way that we haven’t tried in the past.”
The Wilmington plant, which currently employs about 650, has expanded its footprint twice in the past three years to accommodate increased production. According to Parnell, GE Aviation has a $223 billion engine order backlog.
That backlog has not been affected, thus far, by the recent grounding of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, for which the Wilmington plant makes components, a GE Aviation spokesman said Wednesday in an email.
"Wilmington makes rotating parts for many of our engines, including the CFM LEAP [the engine used in Boeing's 737 Max 8]," Cole Massie wrote. "CFM is a 50/50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines in France. For LEAP specifically, the facility in Wilmington makes blisks and spools for the compressor and high pressure turbine disks. At this time, there is no impact to LEAP production."
Most of the new jobs will require sophisticated manufacturing skills.
“Our primary focus is hiring skilled computer numerical control, or CNC, machinists,” Parnell said. “At a high-level overview, a CNC machinist uses specialized computer software for a specific machine to create components that will eventually make their way into a jet engine. We’re expecting a need for about 70 new employees at GE Aviation Wilmington.
“It's always a challenge to find people with the right skills and experience,” he continued. “When you’re making jet engine components, every part we send out the door has to be perfect -- that’s why we have certain expectations for our candidates.”
Many of the computer-driven machines require specialized knowledge and ability, and schools are not necessarily preparing students for this kind of sophisticated job, Parnell explained.
“That makes it harder to find the right people right now,” he said. “Many students are choosing to go to college, which is a great thing, but it means fewer students at trade schools and community colleges where they can go through specialized programs for machinist positions.
“We’re working to address that gap, though. GE Aviation Wilmington has a partnership with Cape Fear Community College, where students can complete an apprenticeship with us during school, then qualify for a full-time position once they graduate,” he said. “If you’re interested in manufacturing, engineering or machining, there’s a ton of opportunity in the aviation industry, especially here in North Carolina.”
People often don’t understand that today’s heavy manufacturing plants are “clean, safe and professional,” Parnell added. “There are great wages to go along with the work, and it’s fulfilling to know that you can look to the skies and see an engine that you helped build.”
Although the recent crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plane might have been caused by an anti-stall system, not engine malfunction, GE Aviation has issued a statement affirming its commitment to safety.
"Safety is the first priority of CFM International and its parent companies, GE and Safran Aircraft Engines," the statement reads. "As such, the company is fully committed to provide whatever resources are necessary to aid in the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 accident.
"CFM extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of the 157 passengers and crew and all those impacted by this event. The CFM team is fully engaged in supporting Ethiopian Airlines, Boeing, and the rest of our LEAP customer base, as well as serving as a technical advisor to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board as it supports the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) in determining the cause of this accident."