Building diversity at Whirlpool: Program draws undergrad students to appliance maker

Undergraduates from colleges across the country work on projects during Whirlpool Corp.’s BUILD (Bridging Unity, Inclusion, Leadership and Development) program Friday at Whirlpool’s Global Headquarters. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

Undergraduates from colleges across the country work on projects during Whirlpool Corp.’s BUILD (Bridging Unity, Inclusion, Leadership and Development) program Friday at Whirlpool’s Global Headquarters. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — When Kamille Hutchinson arrived at Whirlpool Corp. a few years ago, she already had 10 years of recruiting experience.

But one thing Hutchinson noticed during her recruiting cycle was a lack of diversity in the leadership development programs at the Benton Harbor-based appliance maker.

As a result, Hutchinson created a new program last year called BUILD – Bridging Unity, Inclusion, Leadership and Development – which allows students from different areas of the country to learn more about Whirlpool and the programs it offers.

“I was trying to think of a way to come up with a program that would allow us to get the diverse candidates we wanted,” said Hutchinson, a senior recruiter in university relations at Whirlpool. “This was an idea that myself, my manager and my colleague came up with that allowed us to fill the pipeline.”

In the program’s first class, there were 29 applicants and 17 externs that came in. Hutchinson refers to the participating undergraduates as externs. Unlike interns, these undergraduates are in an immersion program.

This year, there were more than 100 applicants and 27 externs.

“It’s exciting to see it continue to grow,” she said. “In the future, this could be a really good pipeline for candidates to become interns at Whirlpool. I would love for this program to have 50 to 75 students come for the week and for us to use this as a funnel to get more students into our leadership programs.”

The externs are made up of undergraduates who have either completed their freshman or sophomore year at college. They hail from Texas, New York, Alabama, California, Florida and the Michigan-Indiana area.

Each extern wore a different color shirt to represent five key departments in Whirlpool. The green T-shirts were worn by finance externs, the safety yellow T-shirts were manufacturing externs, the red T-shirts were sales, the orange T-shirts were for engineering and blue shirts were for those interested in the supply chain.

Last year all externs stayed together in what was planned for the full week of activities. This year, externs were separated based on functions. Manufacturing externs were able to go to a plant Wednesday to see how everything was built. Thursday, every extern went to the Greenville, Ohio, KitchenAid plant.

Karla Kane, who enters her junior year at the University of Michigan, was told about the program by a campus finance group. She was assigned a green shirt because of her interests in financing.

After looking into Whirlpool and its products, Kane said she wanted to give the program a shot.

Having seen everything Whirlpool has to offer, Kane said she’s enjoyed talking to the younger staff that knows what she has and will be going through in her career. Friday was the last day of the weeklong program.

“The biggest surprise in doing this is how many different career paths you can go into,” Kane said. “Even if I come to work at Whirlpool, it’s not an end all to it. There are so many positions within the finance department that it would take a lifetime to try all of them.”

Elaine Park said she enjoyed touring the Real Whirled House used to train up-and-coming sales associates.

The U-M junior was with the sales externs and wore a red shirt. Park said she was most surprised by Whirlpool culture.

“It’s really inclusive and everyone here is so friendly,” she said. “My mentor took me to meet her colleagues, and they were so nice. It was nice to see how dedicated Whirlpool was to diversity and inclusion. It’s rare a company will actually take steps to make sure they carry out their mission.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 13, 2016)
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