An interview with Tim Hinson, Workforce Development Director 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 Workforce Development Director, Tim Hinson to discuss the program and get their honest perspective.
In this interview, Tim shares his experience of this 'different' approach to Apprenticeship, his initial fears and subsequent delight about the program, and how he sees Apprenticeship developing at Miller and beyond.
AAW: Let’s get started, please introduce yourself.
TH: Tim Hinson, I've worked for Miller Electric company for 31 years and I'm the Director of Workforce Development. I was an Apprentice coming up through the field and I was an apprentice journeyman foreman, so I've worked my way up through Miller.
AAW: That’s a wonderful career path! So what was your experience of apprenticeships before working on these technology apprenticeships?
TH: To give it a little bit of a preamble… before this program, my experience was as an apprentice, so I spent four years in a registered apprenticeship program to become an electrician and it was a great experience. I really wasn't looking for college but this was the option. I was given that opportunity and I think it was the best route for me in that time.
AAW: As part of the management team here at Miller what business challenges would you say you were seeking to address with the technology apprenticeships?
TH: Well we didn't really have those disciplines within the company at that level, so it was a win-win for us to take a current employee - in this case - and train them. They were already in the IT department in junior support roles, and now they’ve filled a void that we have had. Cybersecurity is a huge issue that everybody has to face, so we really needed that dedicated person with the specific skills to take care of that for Miller.
AAW: You’ve known these apprentices since they joined Miller, how would you describe the impact of the program on them?
TH: The impact on them has been significant. One of them especially, he's really grown as a person. I think I've heard the most comments from his supervisors and mentors that he's really grown the most during the program, and he seemed to really embrace it. He loved it! Couldn't get enough of it, I mean! He actually completed it first which I thought was impressive. Same for another apprentice, who was also newly transferred into the IT Department from another group within Miller. His program might have been a little bit harder because he didn't have much experience in the programming world, and so now he is a programmer! So for both of them, it's been significant gains! I see their confidence level has been boosted and it's made them better employees.
AAW: How would you do you describe the program to another employer?
TH: I would describe the program as an opportunity for you to develop existing employees - it doesn't have to be existing employees but in our case, it was a natural fit for us to do that.
It gives you the opportunity to have focused technical training with business skills and the other life skills that go along with developing an employee, but it gives that in one package.
It allows you to upskill employees in-house to be able to perform a function that you may have previously had to outsource - whatever that discipline may be, whether it's Cybersecurity, Programming, or Analytics.
AAW: How would you describe the impact of the business skills training that the apprentices had?
TH: Well the impact of the business and professional training with those employees - well they didn't have those skills prior to the training, so it's made them a well-rounded person, where it’s not just their technical training that allows them to represent their department or the company.
It’s really been for them to grow as a person, to grow as an employee, so that at some point maybe they'll move up within the company - they'll still have their technical skills, but they will be able to navigate higher levels of leadership management and be better equipped at communication in that world
AAW: How would you describe working with us with AAW?
TH: I'll tell you I was skeptical at first. We didn't know you and you weren't local to anything that I knew, so I was a little bit apprehensive. But as it went along y'all proved yourself over and over, and we couldn’t have asked for anything better.
We never came to you with a concern about the product that you were developing or providing for us, or the training - the quality of the training or the mentors or the advisors - we never had any problem there, so I would definitely recommend your company to anyone!
AAW: Thanks very much Tim that's really kind
TH: But it's the truth, I mean it's the truth. When I tell you when I first heard the idea I'm like “oh my”, because, sure I'm used to certain things and I was like “I don't know if this is going to work right here”, but yeah, y'all were really pleasant, it was a pleasant surprise all the way through.
AAW: How would you describe the apprenticeship program to potential future apprentices?
TH: It's a lot of work and a lot of dedication that you've got to spend the effort to do it. The flip side of that is you have a job to do, so you've got to prioritize your work, you have to get cooperation and collaboration from your co-workers and your supervisors so they can give you the time that you need to do your projects and your work.
So it's an investment of your time, but the benefit that outweighs that is that it's only a year. And a year seems like a long time but now that they've crossed the finish line, they would tell you that it's well worth it!
AAW: How would you describe the opportunities that the program has unlocked for the apprentices?
TH: Before they came to Miller, I don't know that they'd really had a lot of formal training. And they'd kind of just moved into these roles and were learning on the job without any structure. So it's opened up other avenues for them.
One is that they make more money, which is why we're all here! So they make more money now they have additional job skills, and then with the business skills and the other mentoring they've had they're able to navigate their way through communicating with other work groups and not just the IT department.
So it's expanded their opportunity to grow within the company, and even if they don't stay with the company they have a registered apprenticeship certificate that they can use anywhere!
AAW: If you could tell people three things about this apprenticeship program what would it be?
TH: Alright, so the first thing I would say it's ‘standardization’ because a registered apprenticeship is all about standards, and the training that that one person gets on any particular discipline will be the same as the next person, so yes, one is standardization so that if you're training five apprentices they're all getting the same material and the same education.
The second one would be ‘opportunity’ because it gives the employee the opportunity for job growth and expansion within the company, or outside the company, and it also gives the company an opportunity to have employees that are homegrown and expanded within the company to have various new roles within the company.
And the third is just it's a win-win to me because these people are getting something that they want to do, they signed up for it and now that they've graduated they have an actual State of Florida certificate that shows they’re professionals at those disciplines - and in this case Cybersecurity and Programming.
AAW: How do you feel about the future potential for technology apprenticeships within Miller?
TH: Well we're already discussing some other apprenticeships, so as the company grows - and we are on a growth track - we're hoping to do a billion dollars worth of business within the next few years and we're already over halfway! So that means we're going to have to have more people, and not just in our field teams. It's also the office staff, like in accounting or whatever, so we keep up with technology growth, especially data analytics and that kind of stuff. We're really getting into that so there's no limit to the number of technical apprenticeships that we may want to get into, and even now we have there's a lot of available options to go, but in five or ten years there's going to be even that many more because the technology keeps evolving and morphing.
AAW: Miller Electric is a long-standing organization in the community, and you have some core values that seem to really resonate. How do you think apprenticeships fit with the company's core values?
TH: Out of all of our core values, and several of them apply, but to me, the value of collaboration really fits the apprenticeship and what we've done here. And the reason is that our IT apprentices, they don't typically deal with outside customers, their customers are internal. So their whole role is to sustain and manage our IT network and whatever that looks like. And it changes and morphs all the time - so their idea of collaboration is now they've got to sustain that! Especially with cybersecurity, because it's becoming such a hot-button issue. Now our apprentice has that job, but it involves collaborating with so many employees and with management too, so the program has given him an opportunity to kind of rub elbows with the leadership as well.
AAW: Thanks Tim, that was fantastic.