We were just putting wooden parts onto wooden cars about a quarter the size of the real thing.
But, boy, was it stressful.
I jumped into training with new GM employees at the Lansing Grand River Plant on a mock assembly line. Many of my co-trainees will be putting together Camaros in a few months time.
"This gives the employees the chance to have hands on experience in a controlled environment, where you get to learn from your mistakes without touching a real vehicle," Team Leader Jason Smith, who has trained dozens of new employees this summer, said.
And it's a good thing. Our first run we put out 15 vehicles in 20 minutes, and 14 of those cars had a defect. Industrial Engineer Jim Caplis says part of the reason we were less than perfect is many of the people working at the GM plant have no manufacturing experience when they start.
"This is an opportunity for them to get a feel for what it's like to put a part on a car, actually operate a tool, and making sure that they do the job correctly," Caplis said. "It's a good way to practice without getting on a car that's 70 to 80 to 100 thousand dollars."
The first job I had was putting "headlights" and "taillights" on the car. It was pretty simple, and the one minute I had with each car was plenty of time to get it done. "This is a cake walk," I thought.
Then we switched jobs.
I had to do quality control, which meant checking everyone else's work and then unscrewing every bolt my team had screwed on. It was impossible to do it all before the next car was about to run into the one I was working on.
"The best thing you can learn from this is don't be afraid to ask for help," Smith said. So they design the first exercise to be impossible. You have to learn when to pull the cord that calls for help.
The unequal division of work is part of another lesson the simulation teaches - in the post meeting, work with your team leader to find more efficient ways to put cars together. Two current plant employees say that's how it is on the real floor, too.
Tiffany Schueller is a new trainee. She says this exercise was the most fun part of training. "There's two different worlds when you're starting a job," she said. "There's what it looks like on paper and what it actually looks like on the floor. This is the real deal."
GM says they have had a steady stream of trainees this summer prepping for the new Camaro line. They have built a few Camaros already and are testing them out, as well as figuring out the most efficient way to build the assembly line.