LYNN — Starting Monday, Olivia Whitcomb and Kathaleeya Ortega will be the first women high school graduates working summer internships on the General Electric Aviation’s River Works’s shop floor.
“This is brand new,” said Annie Finn, the GE human resources manager who interviewed the Lynn Vocational Technical Institute Class of 2019 members and took them under her wing.
The pair will work 10 weeks, 40 hours a week, shadowing River Works operations and supply workers, including machinists whose dwindling ranks are a source of worry for the aircraft engine manufacturer.
The internships come with a scholarship awarding Whitcomb and Ortega each $1,500 to pay college costs. Whitcomb is attending the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Ortega is attending North Shore Community College.
“This is the first time we’ve given scholarships to females,” said GE internal communications manager Tania Kimball.
Kimball said the company has reached out to technical training schools like Tech to find students interested in manufacturing careers, including precision machine work vital to producing airplane and helicopter engines.
Finn said Whitcomb and Ortega are strong candidates for the internship and for potential River Works careers. Whitcomb’s family has a multi-generational history of River Works employment. She almost didn’t apply for the internship when she heard that the interview process included speaking in front of an audience.
Ortega quickly developed an interest in welding in Tech’s metal fabrication shop and has built metal furniture. Industrial welding is a profession she has only learned about in textbooks.
“At Tech, I saw everything on paper. It will be interesting to see how it’s done,” she said.
Supply and operations represents more than half of the River Works’ 2,500-employee workforce. But only 197 women are supply and operations employees.
Finn introduced Whitcomb and Ortega Wednesday during a forum focused on women workers. Kimball said the Women in Operations forum and followup discussions will focus on a variety of challenges and situations women face in the workplace.
Senior Manufacturing Manager Andrea Lama runs a department with three dozen employees. As the department’s only woman, she has faced assumptions about her expertise.
“I had someone say, ‘Oh, let me explain how it works’ not knowing I am the engineer for that part,” she said.
Finn said the summer internship will help Whitcomb and Ortega decide if they want to pursue a career at GE and develop confidence as women in the workforce.
“Sometimes,” she told them, “you are the only woman in the room.”