GE Capitalizes on Vets’ Strengths

By Kathy Gurchiek October 13, 2010

NEW ORLEANS—General Electric’s Junior Officer Leadership Program (JOLP) is a tool for attracting and integrating one of the largest overlooked sources of talent—military service professionals transitioning into civilian careers, according to Susan Schieren.

Schieren, program manager of JOLP at General Electric (GE) and a Vietnam-era veteran, was among the concurrent presenters at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2010 Diversity & Inclusion Conference.

Speaking during an Oct. 12, 2010, session held here, Schieren explained how she took over the then-four-year-old program in 1999 and now uses it to hire military officers for GE. But the concept can be adapted to hire enlisted personnel, she noted.

JOLP is structured as a two-year program that provides on-the-job experience with three-, four- or six-month assignments anywhere within the company’s various business functions. That flexibility is the “secret sauce” of the program and contributes directly to its success, Schieren said, with participants receiving world-class training in various functional areas such as aviation, finance, energy, and oil and gas.

Participants gain core training through a product knowledge course in the area they choose, take a course on business finance, and attend the company’s Leadership Management Course to understand GE’s leadership values.

GE gives each participant $3,000 toward any other courses they want to take, supports up to $40,000 toward a master’s degree during and after the program, provides mentoring from company leadership and JOLP alumni and pays starting salaries that range between $85,000 and $95,000, Schieren said.

She directed people to the web site to figure how to determine military pay vs. civilian compensation, but cautioned that companies cannot simply look at a veteran’s base pay in calculating an offer.

In addition to their base pay, she reminded the audience, military personnel receive a housing allowance, health care, tax advantages and a generous holiday and vacation allotment, she said—items not generally reflected in a typical civilian base salary.

She cautioned organizations not to low-ball offers to those coming out of the military into a program such as JOLP.

The military are a much desired job candidate pool, she said, ticking off a long list of reasons they are attractive candidates, including their:

  • Leadership skills.
  • Ability to be mission focused while simultaneously dealing with many issues.
  • Ability to work well with ambiguity.
  • Ability to work independently and as members of a team.
  • Respect toward everyone up and down a company’s chain of command.
  • High energy, alertness and healthy living.

There are 40 people in the program at present, Schieren noted, though it has had as many as 80 participants. GE keeps the numbers low so its graduates can get prime jobs. Oftentimes, GE managers for whom JOLP participants work during a rotation try to hire them before they have finished the program.

If the participant has a real passion for the job being offered, Schieren said she will consent to their hire but the JOLP participant is expected to finish his or her training.

“The skill levels and training that they’re getting now make them excellent with our customers,” she said, explaining their draw.

The program is expanding to GE’s transportation, health care and capital functions in 2010.

“It’s really taking off, but it’s taken 11 years,” Schieren said. “We make it known that we’re a military-friendly company. I get resumes easily.”

Stringent Screening

Schieren attributes part of the program’s success to a stringent screening of candidates. The program looks for those with exceptional military careers focused on broad responsibility and leadership, with a preference for those with engineering or business degrees.

Candidates are screened during on-site group interviews with GE leadership and current JOLP members. They are screened for teamwork, communication skills, common sense and a desire to work for GE.

They must have a minimum of four years of commissioned service, a maximum of two years separation from active duty, although that can be waived if the person is pursing higher education. Additionally, they must have a minimum undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 3.0. Those with a graduate degree must have a minimum GPA of 3.5 and a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.8.

Schieren said she uses employees with prior military experience—not HR—to screen JOLP candidates, resulting in a 95 percent interview-to hire ratio.

She never uses headhunters to find JOLP candidates, noting that “employees know your culture, headhunters don’t.” Fifteen to 20 new program members are recruited for JOLP annually.

And she makes sure her recruiting team makes a concerted effort to pull in a diverse population for JOLP.

She suggests those looking to start such a program find out who their military employees are and put them on the team.

Schieren pointed to the program’s metrics as evidence of JOLP’s success rate:

  • 65 percent of JOLP graduates are in the top 20 percent performance ratings.
  • 35 percent of JOLP graduates are in the ‘strong contributor’ ratings.
  • 85 percent employee retention rate at the five-year anniversary mark. The non-JOLP population typically leaves after the second or third year with the company because they are recruited from the outside.

Organizations looking to start a similar program cannot include nonmilitary and be successful, she stressed.

“You can’t confuse your client, you can’t confuse assignment leaders and managers and monkey it up with people who are not military,” because the military person’s skill level is vastly superior, she said.

Additionally, support from the top is key for the program’s success.

“If you don’t have a CEO and senior HR management that are supporting you, you won’t go anywhere because you’ll constantly fight for resources,” she said.“If you don’t have believers at the top level, it’ll be a hard program to implement.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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