I’ve heard rumors that there’s a recession and companies are looking to save money anywhere they can.
I’ve also heard rumors that the auto industry is not doing so well.
So why would Kia Motors fly 800 newly hired employees in West Point – mostly production workers – to Korea to learn their jobs?
Maybe the trips are not as expensive as I think. Maybe the company is saving on air fare by shipping them all UPS.
In any case, Randy Jackson, who’s been chiefly responsible for preparing the plant to begin operating next month, wouldn’t disclose the tab.
“It’s very expensive, but it’s an investment,” Jackson, 52, said. “They were over there experiencing the equipment and … picking up cultural differences. … We’re also flying more than 100 Korean trainers here.”
With a $1 billion investment at stake, Kia appears to be focusing on the long haul – especially in hiring and training.
“Putting in the manufacturing system is not that difficult,” said Jackson, a Macon native who has worked for Toyota and Mercedes-Benz in other Southern states. “What I focused on was the people side, the human pieces.”
It’s a fairly elaborate piece of work to ready Georgia’s only auto assembly plant following GM’s and Ford’s departure here. Jackson said he tried to employ the best practices from a wide variety of auto makers, but Kia may be taking the hiring process to another level.
Before production or maintenance employees are hired, they have to do some real work – literally.
For 40 hours, job candidates who already have jumped over several hurdles – interviews, role playing and behavioral testing to name a few – must participate in a simulation program on their own time and dime.
With 43,013 applications, there was plenty of competition.
“We’re picking the cream,” Jackson said. “We want people to embrace change and continuous improvement with a can-do mind set.”
The pre-hiring program includes:
– A four-hour orientation class.
– Twenty hours of hands-on assessment for installing wheels, wiring harnesses and using basic tools, among other jobs.
– Sixteen hours of classroom sessions, including 10 tests.
Then if you get the job, which ranges in starting pay from $14.90 an hour to $20.80, there’s plenty of additional training in a separate facility the state built and staffs for about $14.5 million. The curriculum includes welding, stamping, assembly, maintenance and quality control.
More than $400 million in incentives were offered to Kia by state and local governments to locate in West Point.
Depending on sales of the Sorento crossover utility vehicle, Jackson hopes the current work force of 1,200 (950 hourly and 250 salaried) will double next year with the addition of another shift.
That’s one of the reasons Jackson urged Georgians to think hard about Kia when they’re in the market for a new car. Down the road, one or two other models may be added to the plant’s production mix.
“Georgia as a state should embrace us as their own,” he said. “I would hope to see Kias everywhere in Georgia. … Grab it, hug it, kiss it.”
If you do, more workers may be seeing Seoul for the first time.
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