A fresh graduate from the University of Lagos and with just a few months as a General Electric (GE) graduate intern under her belt, Notey Akpotive was recruited into the company’s Early Career Development Program (ECDP) for a year of intensive training and mentorship by senior GE leaders. The goal was to turn Akpotive, a then 23-year-old English major, into highly-skilled, experienced and confident GE human resources professional.
“It was a really intensive 12-month program,” says Notey. “I got the opportunity to have business mentors, I got to go on training, there was a big ‘orientation camp’, and it was really targeted so you had regular catch-up meetings with both the ECDP and the company, across Africa not in from a Nigeria standpoint, to touch base and stay on track. I was so helpful for someone [with very little prior experience in the workplace].”
GE Africa’s ECDP program was launched in 2010 with the goal of building a pipeline of talent across the continent – finding high-potential entry-level employees and running them through a gauntlet of intensive training, challenging work assignments and close exposure to dynamic leaders to hone their potential for a future career within the company.
Despite the recruits’ lack of experience the ECDP didn’t go easy on them and the learning curve was steep. Akpotive describes how she went straight into a specialist role as a HR recruiter, managing recruiting logistics for candidates, coordinating travel arrangements and eventually even shortlisting candidates to be interviewed and hired for the whole of GE Africa.
“I got the chance to travel quite a bit,” says Notey. “At the time I never really travelled to Francophone West Africa, but [during the ECDP program] I had to do it quite a lot… I had to learn how to communicate with a different language and culture and a different set of protocols.
What helped is that I could take a lot of advice from my manager at the time and he gave me tips. For example, for some of my phone meetings he would sit in and afterwards he would be very clear about how I should engage or handle difficult situations. There were also online programs that I could take to improve my skills.”
Those ECDP mentors are a critical factor for the program’s success. They are usually senior managers from across the company’s structure, and while each recruit has their own mentor assigned to them on their track, GE’s flat structure approach to leadership meant that anyone you interacted with could be a potential unofficial mentor, and the young ECDP participants were encouraged to mine everyone they met for knowledge to improve their skill sets.
“The trajectory for me has been really incredible, in just five years I went from an intern and training in the ECDP to mid-career… I don’t feel like I have to chase opportunities, there are so many that they will come when they come. I just want to be ready for them when they do. So right now I’m working to gain more depth in my current role, doing more training and courses and learning to be very good at what I do. I want to be taking on more senior roles in the mid- to long-term.”
Over the years the GE program has grown considerably and now even encompasses a technical division, born out of the original 12-month program, a core area of the company’s future talent development plans. Through Notey’s extended association as an unofficial mentor with the ECDP program she’s seen firsthand how GE nurtures young leaders through the career accelerator through to other leadership accelerator programs, and many even score significant permanent jobs within the company.