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Employer Perspective: Apprenticeship with AAW - Part I - Talent Leadership

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

An interview with Patty Keenan, Chief Talent Officer of Miller Electric, about their office apprenticeship program

Miller Electric Company is a 95-year-old digitally transformed electrical contractor headquartered in Florida, employing over 3,000 people and providing award-winning infrastructure solutions for hospitals, stadiums, EVs, and construction projects across the US.

AAW has been working with Miller since 2020 and started a cohort of Cyber Security and Application Developer apprentices in 2021. Despite their longstanding experience in apprenticing their field electrician workforce, these 12-month competency-based programs in office-based tech skills were completely new to Miller.

Since then Miller has expanded their initiative to add the newly created Business Intelligence Apprenticeship to their program.

Shortly after their first cohort graduated, we sat down with Miller's Chief Talent Officer, Patty Keenan, Chief Technology Officer, David Stallings, and Apprenticeship Director, Tim Hinson to discuss the program and get their honest perspective.

In this interview, Patty shares how this program fits into Miller's talent strategy, her experience of working with AAW, and her vision for the future of Apprenticeship.


AAW: Let’s get started. Can you please introduce yourself?

PK: Hi my name is Patty Keenan and I serve as Chief Talent Officer at Miller Electric company based in Jacksonville Florida

AAW: What has been your experience of apprenticeships before working with AAW?

PK: Before working with AAW my experience with apprenticeships was really in the trades. In the U.S., as a lot of people know, Electrical Contracting is something we have apprenticeships for, and we have apprenticeships in Construction. But I really had never heard of this idea of a Tech Apprentice until I met Nick New at a conference a couple of years ago

AAW: What challenges were you seeking to address with Apprenticeships?

PK: So as a 94-year-old electrical contractor, we had not really thought a lot about cyber security and software development until recently. We realized we didn't really have in-house expertise on things like cyber security and software development so I met Nick at a conference and learned what he was doing with these new skills.

We started talking and frankly I just really started to trust both Nick and Charlie and realize that they were onto something brilliant!

AAW: What are the best features of the apprenticeship program?

PK: For me as the head of our Learning Department, the best feature was really the structured learning plan where AAW actually mapped out for us exactly how much time our apprentices would be spending on learning and how much time doing.

For those of us in the Learning and Development world, we know the 70-20-10 model, where 70 of your learning is experiential - it happens on the job. So this made it an easier sell to our managers because it wasn't that they were in school all the time, they were actually learning by doing.

AAW: So what attracted you to working with AAW?

PK: I think the biggest thing was the very structured learning plan, and so as somebody who works in Learning and Development I know that humans learn best by doing - and that is how their model was set up. That the apprentices would be in school part of the time but most of it would be learning while on the job so that made it an easier sell for our managers, that this wasn't something that we would be pulling them away for, but be something where they could incorporate the learning while they were doing the job.

AAW: How would you describe the best features of AAW's apprenticeship programs besides the structured learning plan?

PK: I love the coaching. I think that is so great for our young people. It's great for everyone. I like the like the follow-up and the regular check-ins. I like that AAW helps us to find grants for apprenticeships, which is huge in America right now. Workforce Development is such a hugely important topic so it just it completely fits in with our bigger business strategy.

AAW: How would you describe the impact of the business skills training and professional coaching?

PK: It surprised us actually. They did learn the technical skills for sure, which was fantastic! What was even better was I actually watched our young apprentices really mature, really show up differently, and really feel more confident in themselves. That part was just a joy and a surprise.

AAW: How would you describe the impact of the apprenticeship program?

PK: We actually have a good Cybersecurity plan now, which is a big deal for a 94-year-old family business! And we're able to do a lot more with Application Development than we were before. In the past, we've had to outsource a fair amount of things so we're able to do quite a bit more in Application Development because of our apprentice’s work with us.

AAW: How would you describe your apprenticeship program in one sentence to another employer?

PK: I've thought about this a fair amount, and as a mother of three young adults in their 20s I see how challenging it is out in the workforce and how much things constantly change way more so than they did when I was their age.

I think this is something that we businesses can do for the next generation. It's just so important to keep building talent for our country and our world.

AAW: How would you describe working with AAW?

PK: Another of my favorite parts of this Apprenticeship program was working with Nick and Charlie. They were just outstanding, they made it easy and fun, and yet very structured and very organized - way more so than I was ever used to being, and they just made us better. I just really appreciate them both very much.

AAW: How would you describe the apprenticeship program to future potential apprentices?

PK: If you are a learner, if you are interested in constantly improving yourself and making yourself very marketable, then this is a great opportunity, and as long as you're willing to show up and do the work it can be fantastic for your career.

AAW: If you could tell people three things about AAW apprenticeships what would they do?

PK: It's easy, it matters, and it drives your business forward.

AAW: How do you feel about the future opportunity with the business intelligence program and apprenticeships?

PK: As Miller Electric evolves further with the apprenticeships. We really did the cyber security and application development as a pilot. Nick and Charlie were great to work with and we were hoping it would go well so that we could take this further.

So one of our biggest business needs right now is Business Intelligence. Understanding all the data that we've been acquiring for 94 years, and as we started to brainstorm about it we've created this Business Intelligence apprenticeship.

We will have at least five people who already work for Miller participating in this from several different departments including marketing, commercial, the learning team, and operational Finance. What I'm excited about is there'll be a cohort together so it's one of the side benefits I expect is to bring our business units together, and then the other is that we're so excited about it we're talking to other companies. We're hoping that this is a way to engage with our customers, our vendor partners and have apprentices working on business intelligence together so that we can keep building relationships, which has really been the Cornerstone of our business.

AAW: Miller Electric is a company with a great heritage and you have a really strong purpose. How do you feel the apprenticeship program aligns with that purpose?

PK: What a great question! Yes, I think the AAW apprenticeship program is highly aligned with our values. Our top two values are trust and collaboration, so we only work with people that we trust and can collaborate with. We've really created this in unison with AAW. That was very important for us.

Our business strategy, our number one strategic imperative, is to amplify talent and for us, that means to attract develop, and mobilize. So the apprenticeship program allowed us to do this. We had the people already and this allowed us to develop them, and then to mobilize them into brand new positions in the company that didn't exist before.

AAW: If you could click your heels together and jump forward in five years, how would you envisage the future of apprenticeships at Miller Electric?

PK: I would envision the future of apprenticeships at Miller Electric being that always have office apprenticeships going in addition to our trade apprenticeships. in a company of about 3,000 we would have 20 or 30 apprentices in the office - mostly in project management roles - going through these programs consistently, and hopefully in partnership with clients and other business partners.

AAW: We've talked a bit about engaging with the community, as that's something Miller is very much a part of, and you've talked about partnering with clients and vendors. Can you talk a little bit about how that Community aspect and partnership with your vendors is a part of your values?

PK: Our values are very important at Miller. Community is a core value of what we do. We're in everything, we're in the Florida Chamber of Commerce, I'm on the board of United Way NEFL Junior Achievement, we get involved with the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and have for many decades. When we talk about the concept of Workforce Development, this is one of the pretty innovative things we're doing right now that really is helping to drive our strategy forward.

AAW: We've talked a little bit about our Ambitions for engaging new parts of the community, whether that's Veterans, High School graduates, people returning to the workforce, etc, how do you envisage apprenticeships as being one of the vehicles you can use to address that?

PK: So I'm glad you brought up high school apprenticeships because we actually tried this year to hire High School interns for the first time. We hired 16-year-olds as part of a pilot and, now that we've done it, I see that we have so much opportunity with the next generation. Not everyone needs to go to college right away. I love college, my kids all went to college. I just think that ‘how we go’ might change.

So we could see High School interns or apprentices coming to work directly for us. Working for a little while before finishing up or going to college at night. I think we're changing the model of how America learns.

AAW: Can you talk a little bit about your apprentices and what you've observed in them?

PK: I so admire them. They're at a fairly young stage of their career and they embraced the idea and they said “Yes we want to learn, we're on board”.

As you know, life happens right, so one apprentice was at a stage of his life where he could devote all of his time to it right away, but in another’s case, he and his wife had a baby during the apprenticeship.

This also made me grow in my admiration for Nick and Charlie, because they worked with him through it. So our Apprentice took some time off. He was able to do some of the work while he took time off to be with his family, and then he finished up in a timeframe that worked for him and his family, and for us. And that's frankly how Miller works anyway. We take care of our people, so that was a very nice alignment of values.

AAW: How do you how would you describe their development as individuals

PK: Our apprentices were in their late 20s and early 30s, and they matured in what I would call ‘business maturity’, their development as individuals. They improved their interpersonal skills, their writing skills, and their emails were different. It was all those things that they also gained. The technical skills were almost a side benefit in my mind.

AAW: How important are developing business professional skills for you as an employer?

PK: I think the importance of building other skills in addition to technology skills is essential. I recently went to a chamber of commerce in Florida where they said the number one skill that employers are looking for is public-speaking, and they don't mean just public-speaking to 500 people, they mean in a business setting. To be able to show up and articulate your thoughts. I agree with them on this, this is the number one challenge that employers have. It shows up from the moment you interview someone, you can tell whether they can get their point across or not.

AAW: Thank you so much for your time, Patty.

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