Alison Holland was almost predestined to be an engineer at General Motors. Born to an electrical engineer mother and a mechanical engineer father, both of whom work at GM, she grew up entirely familiar with the discipline and the company.
Today, she’s working to establish GM’s first-ever assembly operations for a new EV battery platform at Factory ZERO in Detroit-Hamtramck, Michigan. Recently named an Emerging Leader by the Manufacturing Institute’s 2023 Women MAKE Awards, which honor outstanding women in the industry, Holland spoke to us about her career, her work helping other young women find their footing and her goals for the future.
Not your mother’s industry: As the daughter of a female engineer, Holland has a unique perspective on the role of women in the industry. How was her mother’s experience different from her own?
- Women were much more in the minority back then, Holland said, and her mother “had to work even harder to earn her way to the top.”
- Holland learned a great deal about managing her own career from her mother, a kind, patient parent who never missed her four children’s activities or let the pressures of work invade her home life.
Choosing manufacturing: While her parents’ example set her on the path toward manufacturing, Holland also attributes her comfort in the industry to her competitive nature.
- The former college soccer player says manufacturing has a similar feel to sports and is rewarding for those who want to excel in a “high-paced” environment.
- “I wanted a career where I could be challenged and see my efforts pay off with real-time results”—just as she did on the field.
A sustainable career: At GM, Holland is part of an exciting project: launching GM’s first battery assembly plant under the same roof as EV truck assembly at Factory ZERO. The battery, or Rechargeable Energy Storage System, is based on GM’s Ultium battery platform, which will increase the range, power and performance of a number of different vehicle types. She works with coordinators and engineers at different sites, making sure best practices are codified and shared throughout the company.
- Holland loves her work because “it’s a new challenge every day. I’m helping to reinvent the wheel when it comes to battery production. The small decisions we make will have a long-lasting impact.”
A young leader: Holland considers herself lucky to have had excellent female mentors, who helped her learn to “make her opinions heard.” Today, she helps other people, including many women, find support for their own goals.
- As part of GM’s early career development program for manufacturing engineers, Holland organized events like lunch-and-learns so that young workers could hone their professional skills together and build productive relationships. She also helped participants find and benefit from mentors who previously went through the program.
- Holland also provides coaching to women who are experiencing professional “firsts”—such as the first time they work on the production line, or encounter a new process, or lead teammates with unique backgrounds. Holland began this work while serving as a mentor in the early career development program and has kept it up as she leads her own team.
What’s next? When Holland looks ahead, all she sees are opportunities. “I am super interested in sustainability. I want more experience in other production departments, so I can understand all the other sides of the business. I want to have more cross-functional experiences, so I can better understand what people are asking of me.”
The last word: Holland has simple but important advice for young women starting out in the industry. “Learn as much as you can. Take any opportunity to learn about the industry. That will boost your confidence. It takes some time and you’ll make some mistakes, but all of those experiences matter.”