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Looking Up: Former Automotive Industry Workers Find Success at GE Aviation

September 25, 2019 | by Cole Massie
Every two seconds, an aircraft with GE Aviation technology is taking off somewhere around the world. For Salim Semssar, that statistic carries a special significance: He’s the global head of quality for GE Aviation.

“Every single day, I wake up and feel how awesome that responsibility is,” he remarks.

But there’s a worthy counterbalance to the heavy responsibility of Semssar’s position: his passion for the products. “The products in aviation are exotic. They’re every child’s dream,” he says. “Your work, even if it’s just one tiny component of a gigantic jet engine, touches the sky every single day. You can’t find job satisfaction like that anywhere else.”

It’s that type of sentiment that makes a career in the aviation industry so attractive. For positions across the board, from engineering and supply chain operations to facility management and more, GE Aviation is continually looking for the right people to help invent the future of flight.

And one of the places to look for those people isn’t the skies, but the roads—the automotive industry.

Automotive expats are increasingly finding their way to the aviation industry. When they do, they often bring decades of experience. Semssar is among them. He spent more than 20 years in various automotive roles before joining GE Aviation in 2014.

“The aviation industry can learn a lot from the automotive industry,” he says. “The rigor, the speed of production, the high-volume mentality—it’s something to aspire to. Aviation has very robust designs, very safe operations, and so matching that with automotive’s strengths, you’re making a great product even greater. Continuous operational improvement is always the goal here.”

The “continuous improvement” mindset is one of the hallmarks of lean manufacturing, a manufacturing philosophy devised by the Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota. Its overall intent is to boost productivity and efficiency by continuously finding ways to eliminate waste throughout the manufacturing process. Having originated in the auto industry, it’s no surprise that today’s major automakers are leaders in both the art and the science of lean manufacturing.

Semssar notes that the bedrock of lean manufacturing has always been present at GE. But it’s particularly important these days. In the midst of one of the most aggressive production ramp-ups in commercial aviation history, driving efficiency without sacrificing an ounce of safety or quality is more important than ever.

Lean manufacturing experience and an operations-focused mindset are highly appealing characteristics from a talent acquisition standpoint, says Sarah Hutcheson, a Senior HR Manager at GE Aviation’s operation in Asheville, North Carolina. Hutcheson, an automotive-to-aviation transplant herself, has a unique view into how that experience transfers across industries.

“When a candidate from an automotive background can come in speaking that same lean manufacturing language we speak, that’s a huge edge,” she says. “In Asheville, we use many templates and improvement tools that are similar to automotive. Former auto workers provide a great perspective for operations across the company, which helps them move up the ladder quickly.”

Sarah Hutcheson, Senior HR Manager, has worked at GE Aviation’s Asheville facility for just over three years. She came to GE Aviation from the automotive industry.

Few GE Aviation employees fit that description better than Michael Robinson, the plant leader at GE Aviation’s component manufacturing facility in Batesville, Mississippi.

Robinson spent a decade working in various automotive roles after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree from Auburn University in 2005. He also spent time in the food manufacturing and energy industries, including seven years in Malaysia before returning to his roots in the southeastern United States, where he grew up.

The impetus for that major life and career change? “I wanted to go somewhere experiencing growth, and I wanted a challenge,” Robinson says.

His challenge was clear: he had little knowledge of the aviation industry or of GE itself. But he reasoned that everyone has to start somewhere. “I was comfortable coming in and saying, ‘I have zero aviation experience,’” Robinson recalls. “I knew I was surrounded by people with 10, 20, 30 years of experience who were experts on the technical side of the product. They looked to me for my operational expertise, and I looked to them for their technical expertise. It came together to make a really strong match.”

Almost a year and a half into his new role, Robinson’s 400-person operation, which produces components such as fan cases, acoustic panels, and outlet guide vanes for six different engine lines, is humming along.

“The products change, but the process of how you tackle problems and meet customer expectations stays the same,” he notes. “As long as you’re patient, the product and industry knowledge become a natural byproduct of your day-to-day work.”

Travis Dodds, a senior facility manager at GE Aviation’s Huntsville, Alabama, site, can attest to the growth that’s accompanied his move from automotive to aviation. Dodds says he knew from a young age that he wanted to go into the automotive manufacturing space due to his admiration for manufacturing icon and assembly line pioneer Henry Ford. But like Semssar, Hutcheson, and Robinson, he eventually felt the need for a different challenge.

“It was so interesting to see a completed jet engine and wonder, How does this get built, start to finish?” he says. “There was also the historical aspect of it that attracted me to GE—we built America’s first jet engine.”

That curiosity has served Dodds well. He quickly learned his away around the complex supply chain and ended up at America’s first center for silicon carbide (SiC) mass production in Huntsville. He oversees the $200 million center, which produces the components that go into GE Aviation’s ceramic matrix composites (CMCs).

“The complexity of the business has opened me up to so many learning opportunities,” Dodds reports. “Once you have a good understanding of all the things [GE Aviation] does and build your network within the company, that’s when you can really take off in your career. That’s how I ended up where I am today.”

Interested in exploring a career at GE Aviation? Visit GE Careers to view all current openings.

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.