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Employer Perspective: Apprenticeship with AAW - Part III - Technology Leadership

An interview with David Stallings, Chief Technology 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 Workforce Development Director, Tim Hinson to discuss the program and get their honest perspective.

In this interview, David shares how he was able to realize his vision for tech Apprenticeships and how added business skills can impact careers.

Editor's note: Since this interview, David has retired from his role as CTO and is now serving as Executive Technology Consultant for Miller's board.


AAW: We'll start, so please introduce yourself.

David Stallings (DS) - I’m David Stallings, Chief technology officer here at Miller Electric Company

AAW: So what was your experience of apprenticeships before working with us on the technology apprenticeship?

DS: We are a union contractor so a majority of our workforce is through apprenticeship, so I have an intimate Knowledge from a trade craftsman standpoint, of both a four-year and a five-year apprenticeship, because we have two different divisions within our company that go through apprenticeship.

AAW: What business challenges were you hoping to address with technology apprenticeships?

DS: We were hoping to address a combination of business challenges with technology apprenticeships. Number one is just simply getting resources. It's very difficult to hire for the specific skill set that you need, and then additionally it's part of our core business values, to grow our existing staff. So we were hoping to address both through the apprenticeship.

AAW. What attracted you to Apprenticeships as a solution for those challenges?

DS: What attracted me to apprenticeships was my knowledge and understanding of apprenticeships, that you can take a person from an almost zero skill set and train them into whatever you want them to be, or whatever they want to be.

The important part of our culture at Miller is literally that we hire for culture, and skillset is a secondary part of our interview process, therefore we have to have a mechanism for training for that skillset. So the idea of apprenticeships comes from that.

AAW: What were the best features of the apprenticeship program that we built with you?

DS: I can think of several features of the apprenticeship that we built with you guys. One that really stands out is accountability. We've got a tremendous learning and development team internal to Miller, but it is really dependent upon the employee's desire to grow. So if you don't want to take the classes you don't have to take the classes, so that aspect of it - where a person has a curriculum, they have a coach and we have a schedule - was critical for us as a decision process.

AAW: That’s brilliant, thanks. How would you describe the impact of the business skills training and professional coaching?

DS: This was probably the biggest surprise we had. Again, we know why we hire people from a culture standpoint, and to a certain degree plan on training the skillset part, so that's why we entered into the apprenticeship. With the idea to go “Okay, we want a Cybersecurity person, we want an Application Development person, let's do the training”.

So getting the business skill part was an added benefit, where we were able to lift these people up in their general business skillset, not just the technical side. So setting them up, even if they decide not to be in Cybersecurity, they're still a better employee!

AAW: That’s great, how do you think those skills have impacted the career potential of your apprentices?

DS: So, do I think the business skills have impacted their career? Absolutely! We know with one of our Apprentices that there were some real development needs, and they've been for the most part corrected, so it will help him tremendously in the future to move from being just the technical employee that he's viewed as, into hopefully more of a management employee in the future. That's the ultimate goal.

On the other hand, another Apprentice was a more polished person, a very personable person, but I don't think we even fully realized he had time management issues because everything he was doing on a day-to-day basis was very task-oriented - where you basically get tasks assigned and have to get it done. The assigning part was being done by others so we weren't seeing his own personal time management issues - so that was helped tremendously to the point that he now likes to set schedules for other people!

AAW: That’s fantastic. So how would you describe the overall impact of the apprenticeship program on your apprentices?

DS: Very uplifting and confirming! We definitely added skills to them, but at the same time confirmed that they were very talented to begin with and that they were selected for a reason.

AAW: So, how would you describe working with AAW?

DS: How would I describe working with AAW? Flexible. I think that's probably the biggest word. As we developed the program it was literally that we were ‘developing a program’. We didn't know what we were doing. We kind of had an idea of what we wanted to do, and we had heard a lot in conferences in different areas of “hey.. this is a thing you can do” but we basically didn't know what we were doing, even though we have a 90 plus year history of apprenticeship involvement, we don't have it as it's related to the technology side of the business.

AAW: Thank you, David, that's great feedback. So, how would you describe your apprenticeship program in one sentence to another employer

DS: In one sentence? I consider it one of the best ways to increase skillset or help an individual change careers. Or, if you as an employer are interested in growing employees it provides an excellent way to grow your employees in a controlled environment.

AAW: And how would you describe the program to Future apprentices?

DS: Opportunity. No other word really fits, other than opportunity. And work! It's not given to you, it's not handed to you, it is an opportunity but you have to put in the time and the effort and you will be rewarded accordingly.

AAW: How would you describe how your apprentices feel about completing the program?

DS: Relieved! (laughs). Proud, absolutely! Both of them struggled along the way, in different areas, with different aspects. They were appreciative of the opportunity, so proud and appreciative.

AAW: You mentioned they had challenges, what was it about the program that helped them succeed?

DS: What helped them succeed? I go back to flexibility. Flexibility and support. The ability, even though we had a set timeline, for an apprentice to adapt that timeline to his family situation. And then you know of course our struggles with them wanting to do it all at home, and you coached them into what apprenticeship means, and that it occurs on the job - that was was a big help.

AAW: What attracted you to working with AAW as an apprenticeship partner?

DS: What attracted me to working with AAW? I like how you put that. Confidence. Confidence in you both as founders, you very much seemed to know and understand what we were after, and where we - hopefully - will head in the future. Patience. Patience that y'all provided in getting us to see that vision because we moved a little bit slow at first.

AAW: Thank you it's wonderful to hear that. Thank you. If you could tell people three things about the apprenticeship program what would they be?

DS: Three things about the AAW apprenticeship experience? It's going to sound repetitive but, Confidence in the fact that AAW knows what they're doing, Flexibility in that they're willing to work and craft something for an employer and an employee that will work, and then Accountability to keep us on track and keep things moving forward.

AAW: How do you see the future of apprenticeships with regard to Miller’s involvement?

DS: How do I see the future of our organization with apprenticeships? So we have the Business Intelligence Program coming online. Really looking forward to that! But really the future is two steps.

Number one I want us to start using it to bring in people. We've always used it from an upskilling standpoint, which is great! But we really want to use it as a recruitment tool.

Then the second part is getting it expanded into our client base and into our other offices so that when our employees are going through an apprenticeship they're also going through it with our customers at the same time. So that there is both a lot of networking ability and advancement of the company's business capability at that point.

AAW: With the pandemic we've been engaging with you guys through Google Meet for a couple of years now, but coming here and seeing your values and mission statements so boldly presented, it's really apparent to us that Miller is truly authentic and close to those values. You really do ‘walk the talk’. How do you feel that apprenticeships reflect your values as an organization?

DS: Apprenticeships really are a reflection of our values! I guess it goes back to stewardship. You know, I've been here 35 years, the company's been here 94 years, and when I was hired - even 35 years ago - you knew this - the company - wasn't yours. It was only yours for a time. And in order for us to continue to grow and and to ensure that the company is secure for the next generation, and the generation after that, we have to have a forward-thinking well-educated talent pool, and that talent pool has to come from both college and apprenticeships.

You may not be aware, but our leadership is essentially fifty percent from the apprenticeship path and fifty percent from the college-educated path. It was an intentional thing originally but it's become a very organic thing now as part of our core culture - that we need both paths.

So to go back to the question of how apprenticeship fits with our company's values - yes and it really is just growing people. We do a lot of executive strategic planning and we always boil them down to people and processes. It's really all we have to work on as Executives. It’s people and making sure everything keeps moving.

That's it.

AAW: Thanks David, that was really insightful.

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