Located right off the 75 and Sibley in Michigan’s Brownstown Township is a high-tech facility that is the only establishment in the United States mass-producing batteries for extended-range electric vehicles. Its official name: GM Subsystems Manufacturing LLC. Its legal status: wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors Company.
Nearly half of the hourly workers at the plant are between 24 and 31 years old — otherwise known as the tech-savvy and environmentally conscious Millenial generation that’s generally characterized by activities such as multi-tasking and taking on new challenges, as well as career advancement. The plant and its team builds the advanced batteries that are at the heart of the Chevrolet Volt, Opel Ampera, and Cadillac ELR extended-range EVs. And while providing high-tech battery packs to the Detroit-Hamtramck plant (where the trio of EREVs is assembled) is the first and foremost function at Brownstown Assembly, the plant also happens to serve as a place of employment that appeal to younger workers.
“They’re not just coming to work here expecting to do the same job for the next 30 years,” said Brownstown plant manager Jeff Lamarche. “They want variety and certainly do live up to the description of their generation in that they’re more portable. They want to do a lot of different things and adapt well to different jobs and different parts of the plant. They’re pretty motivated on how they can move up.”
For instance, 24-year-old Valerie Myaard, 28-year-old Shannon Pearson, and 26-year-old Tony Lamentola all started at Brownstown in 2010 and rapidly progressed to Team Leaders.
The youngest employee at the plant, Myaard started as a team member on the main line in a five-station sector that connects three sub-sections of the battery pack into a single assembly. She was promoted to Team Leader in less than a year, and wants to keep moving up. “I don’t do well settling. I like challenges.”
Pearson was a team leader on the module final line — managing a team that assembles and tests battery sub-sections. She’s now in a management position in the Material Department.
Meanwhile, Lamentola started in the Material Department and was recently promoted to Team Leader managing several people in battery assembly and operation. He’s responsible for leading the pack leak test and cover install teams.
“I like the idea of being able to tell my kids and grandkids when I get older that we were the people who started it and were the first people to get the battery-powered vehicles going.”
One of the plant’s older Millenials is Brett Powell. The 31-year-old has prior experience with electric cars when he worked for a small firm that builds EVs “for the neighborhood”. Powell is a lead technician at the plant, analyzing batteries to ensure quality, and believes working at Brownstown is a natural progression of his early involvement with the cars.
“Since there was so much excitement surrounding electric vehicles, I wanted to stay on that path,” said Powell, who has worked at the plant since July 2010. “It was a good career move. The Volt is far more advanced than the little cars I was working on. What I liked best about going to work at Brownstown is that it was a new area of start-up so I had a chance to get in on the ground level, allowing me to learn and grow with everybody else.”
But what is perhaps most interesting to GM enthusiasts are the comments by GM President of North America Mark Reuss as they relate to serving Millenials: “All of GM is committed to connecting with the Millennial generation, as employees and consumers,” he said. “We must embrace a culture that gets behind this generation and positions them to lead us into the future. This plant is just one example of our young workers are making a meaningful contribution together with managers who mentor them and value their perspective.”
The GM Authority Take
According to CEO of the Center for Automotive Research Jay Baron, a younger workforce is vital for the auto industry to thrive. Meanwhile, progress is also important for Millennial employees such as Myaard, Lamentola, and Pearson; it’s this kind of progress that drives, and will continue to drive, GM.