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Upskilling Essential Workers and Unleashing Worker Potential

Inspire in Coronado Beach in Sunny Cali.

Essential workers are all the rage right now. The only thing more popular is figuring out how to recruit them. That’s why we invited Ashley Miller, VP of HR operations at Quanta Services to sit down with us at iCIMS Inspire in San Diego. According to Ashley, start with a strong message targeted toward an inclusive audience, including military veterans, give them incredible benefits, including upskilling, and leverage technologies like SMS and video, and treat workers like family. What a concept!


INTRO: Hide your kids. Lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.

Joel: Oh yeah. What's up everybody? We are recording live from the iCIMS Inspire Conference from beautiful San Diego, California. I am Joel Cheesman. Joined as always, Chad Sowash is by my side.

Chad: Hello.

Joel: And we are excited to welcome Ashley Miller, VP of HR Operations at Quanta Services, not Qantas Airlines...

Ashley Miller: Correct.

Joel: Quanta Services. Ashley, welcome to the Chad and Cheese Podcast.

Ashley Miller: Thank you guys for having me.

Chad: Thanks for being here.

Ashley Miller: Not Quantum either.

Joel: Not Quantams.

Ashley Miller: Not Qantas, that's the airline. Right.

Joel: Clearly we don't know what the hell's going on. Most of our listeners don't either give us the dealio on Quanta Services.

Ashley Miller: Sure. So we are a company that you've never heard of.

Joel: Yes, until today.

Ashley Miller: We are a 14200 organization and at the end of the day, everybody has a utility bill, right? So I was just talking with you guys. You have Duke Energy is who you pay every month for electricity.

Joel: I sure do.

Ashley Miller: So they help keep your power on. But there are a lot of contractors behind the scenes who are actually going out in the middle of the night who are helping to rebuild the infrastructure in the country.

Joel: Oh.

Ashley Miller: So we all have this lovely 20... Is it 2030 carbon neutral? [laughter]

Joel: Depending on your state.

Ashley Miller: Everybody think... We're gonna... Yeah, exactly. California. It's much sooner.

Chad: It's like it keeps moving.

Ashley Miller: It does keep moving.

Joel: There's an election next year. It might change after that.

Ashley Miller: It might change again.

Chad: Yeah. It'll be 2022. [laughter] Carbon neutral retro, yes.

Ashley Miller: All of that being said, we have an aging infrastructure in the States. Right. Our organization provides the craft skilled labor that essentially builds the infrastructure for tomorrow. So we power your modern life, right? So you turn on the light switch, you should be thinking about the folks that are out there climbing on the poles, ensuring that you have electricity.


Joel: Thank your lucky stars. There's Quanta Services. When you turn those lights on.

Ashley Miller: When a storm comes, who do you think's going? Who do you think is going to restore the power, winter, hurricane, whatever it is?

Chad: Exactly, They have to strap on the little things that climb the poles, right?

Ashley Miller: Yes. That stick into the pole to help you.

Chad: That still happens.

Ashley Miller: That's still happens.

Chad: It's still a thing.

Ashley Miller: But we are going to vanes.

Chad: Elevators, are you gonna do elevators?

Ashley Miller: We have wind energy. We actually just got awarded a project called Sunsea.

Joel: Look at you.

Ashley Miller: Largest clean energy project in the United States history.

Chad: Where where?

Ashley Miller: It's in New Mexico, in Arizona.

Chad: Oh, nice.

Ashley Miller: And we are delivering energy essentially to California. Because California always needs energy.

Chad: California needs everything.

Ashley Miller: And water.

Chad: They need everything.

Ashley Miller: I used to live here actually, for eight years.

Chad: Really?

Ashley Miller: Yeah.

Joel: San Diego or California?

Ashley Miller: San Diego, Northern California, Sax wellington.

Joel: And you left because?

Ashley Miller: It's too effing expensive.

Joel: Okay, good reason.

Chad: Yes. There it is, ding ding ding ding...

Ashley Miller: I am a Texan, so paying a million dollars for a shack is not actually something I wanna do.

Chad: So recruiting here is not easy, is what you're saying.

Ashley Miller: Recruiting is definitely not easy here. We actually have a huge labor population in California and a lot of our Northeastern states. So we partner with IBW to try to help the industry get a lot more craft skilled labor into the trade. We bought a college a few years ago, so we actually...

Joel: I'm sorry.

Chad: There we go.

Joel: We bought a college.

Ashley Miller: You wanna talk about diverse, your portfolio.

Joel: Quanta you.

Chad: This Is amazing and smart because here's the thing, kids, we hear this thing called the skills gap.

Joel: We own the gap.

Chad: When you can fill it from pampers.

Ashley Miller: From pampers.

Chad: All the way, all the way in. It just makes sense, right? I mean, that is so, so incredible smart...

Joel: Gold plated diapers. Baby.

Chad: So Joel and I, we're a little bit older than you [laughter] We went to school, we went to school when there was vocational.

Ashley Miller: Yeah. Training, yeah.

Chad: Yes. That shit doesn't exist anymore.

Ashley Miller: It does.

Joel: Except at Quanta University.

Chad: But no.

Ashley Miller: Not as big, but it's coming back.

Chad: One of the things that I, that I love about the whole idea of this is instead of leaning incredibly heavily on corporate welfare, you guys said, no, you're not gonna get this shit right in the first place. We're gonna go ahead and take this on ourselves because this is a long-term commitment to building what? Oh, let me hear it. Talent pipelines. Because everybody talks about talent pipelines, but nobody knows what it really means. I'm gonna give you a big kiss right now.

Joel: They're committed. They're committed.

Ashley Miller: We are. I mean, in all honesty, we control the training.

Chad: Wow.

Ashley Miller: And we control it for the industry. Not just for our organization, but we hold something similar to iCIMS, but we have all of our customers. It's called Utility Perspectives. We come in and talk about industry trends. And yeah, buying a college was certainly not something that was in our portfolio. We are, again...

Chad: Genius.

Joel: And what's the name of the college?

Ashley Miller: It's called Northwest Line College. I'm not gonna say lineman. But it's Northwest Lineman College. We have four campuses throughout the states. We probably produce about 5,000, 6,000.

Chad: Wow.

Ashley Miller: Pre-apprentice journey line workers. So.

Chad: Are you gonna grow it?

Ashley Miller: We intend to grow it. Yeah. We will continue to grow it.

Chad: 'Cause you could do that nationwide, not just for yourself, but for other.

Ashley Miller: So we actually have customers who pay for our training and send... Yes. So, it's actually a, it's not a non-for-profit, but if it's for profit it's...

Chad: Where have you been all my life. [laughter] Ashley. Where have you been all my life.

Ashley Miller: We just need to capitalize on it. We need to get people excited about the industry. We need to get people excited about this trades. This is like six figure work. Like no joke. It's a lifestyle.

Chad: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah.

Ashley Miller: But it's good trade.

Joel: So we're talking about growing the apples directly from the tree.

Ashley Miller: Yes.

Joel: You guys are really committed to diversity and veteran recruitment. Talk about that.

Ashley Miller: We are. So we have another advanced training center, which is actually in Lazy Q Ranch. And it's in La Grange, Texas. And we have a partnership with our veteran organizations where we essentially hire them from the military. We're picking folks that are interested in being outside, working with their hands, used to being away from home. We have 'em come in, we pay for it. So we're giving them a wage. We're actually sponsoring their education for them to continue to be a journey line worker.

Chad: Well in the military they have, I know I spent 20 years, they actually have what we call wire dogs. And that's what they do. So I mean, they have all these skills...

Ashley Miller: Transferable skills.

Chad: Yes, that you can actually pull in, right again, love this, this is amazing.

Ashley Miller: We actually have a big session coming up. We're going through a little bit of a business evolution. So we are, and actually with our partnership with iCIMS, we have about a hundred operating companies that traditionally have maybe bidded against each other in the same market. And so we've done, has really changed our operational model to be a more regional, and our customers are like,"Hey, I don't wanna talk to five different freaking people from your company. Like you self-perform 85% of your work. Talk to one person. We want you." So at the end of the day, we're in this situation where our customers are demanding a change. So we don't wanna look dumb in the market when it comes to talent. So that's actually how we're partnering with iCIMS.

Chad: You don't look dumb, I'm telling you right now.

Joel: Wire dog? Is that anything like [laughter] a Chicago dog? 'Cause I'm all over it if that's... Oh, no? Okay. I see.

Chad: Yes. No. It's not the same kind of dog. You don't wanna put that dog in your mouth.

Joel: Oh boy. All right. So I'm gonna quote your website. At Quanta, we pride ourselves on being a family company.

Ashley Miller: Yeah.

Joel: Now we've heard some pushback in different employers that say,"We don't want to portray our workers as family because it's harder to lay them off. We're more of a team." So talk about the commitment to talking about employees as a family.

Ashley Miller: I can give you a quote of something that happened when I first joined Quanta probably about seven years ago, I stood up and our CEO in a town hall. And this was right at the time when bathrooms were a topic of discussion.

Chad: Oh, yes. Yes.

Ashley Miller: What bathroom should you use?

Chad: Because that should always be an issue. I mean, give me a break.

Ashley Miller: I mean it rised up everywhere, right? So my CEO basically stood up and said,"Listen, I don't care who you are. I don't care who you love. I don't care what bathroom you use. At the end of the day, if you wanna work hard, I want you here. We want your brother, we want your cousin, we want your sister, we want your aunt. If they wanna work here and they wanna work hard, we want them." And as a personal note, I've had, my sister-in-law works for the organization. My mother worked for the organization. There is obviously sometimes a little bit of issues when you can't fire them. But I think we're working through all of it and you know, we're trying to make sure to do it ethically.

Chad: But that's real family.

Ashley Miller: It is.

Chad: Not just this fake family that most companies talk about.

Ashley Miller: It is, every company says that,"Family core value."

Chad: Yes.

Ashley Miller: This is the only company that I've...

Joel: They take it to the next level.

Chad: Yes.

Ashley Miller: For real.

Chad: Yes. Yes.

Ashley Miller: Everybody's family, which as an HR professional when you're doing an investigation, can be quite difficult. You have to know who is related to who?

Joel: I keep saying the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to family.

Chad: Can't even imagine.

Ashley Miller: They do. It's a retention, right? So at the end of the day, I know a lot, one of my best friends got an interview and job at the organization...

Chad: And how hard is it gonna be to leave...

Ashley Miller: It'll be super hard.

Chad: Because she's gonna let you down and, and all the rest of the family. I mean, literally family down, just the loyalty connection here, it's just smart.

Ashley Miller: It's different, It's different though.

Joel: Wicked smart.

Chad: Unless it's not, 'casue family drama can be a little bit much.

Ashley Miller: It can, but we have a great leader. We have great leadership teams that are probably harder on their family members than they are on, regular employees. So, yeah.

Chad: Come on Jeff. Get to work.

Joel: She said harder. Okay. You guys have like fantastic benefits.

Ashley Miller: We do.

Joel: Really good benefits, talk about that...

Ashley Miller: We have pet insurance.

Chad: Oh.

Joel: I know you guys go above and beyond.

Ashley Miller: We have pet insurance.

Joel: How important is that to recruiting, retention? Talk about your benefits?

Ashley Miller: Yeah, so we have, your traditional benefit plan. We've probably got about three or four different options for folks where they are in their lives. We really pay attention to our spouses. So sometimes, other folks don't pay attention to benefits.

Joel: So do Chad and I.

Chad: Yes.

Joel: Not yours, ours.

Ashley Miller: But the spouses do. The spouses care about it. So we have a really hands-on approach. When we come to working with families. We have some unique stuff. Again, pet insurance, we have a pretty big program with mental wellness. So we've construction in the construction industry, unfortunately, there are a lot of suicides so we've got a really big dedication today to really focus on trying to reduce that number.

Chad: Well, that's amazing. And also employing veterans, right? I mean, it is important to take care of your people and when...

Ashley Miller: And their spouses.

Chad: Yes. That's what I was getting... I was getting right to that. Because in the military, we are used to, we have to take care of everybody. Meaning not just the person in the ranks. But also their spouses.

Ashley Miller: Their family.

Chad: And their kids. Because we know that when they are not focused on the job, they're focused on something else. That's a life and death situation. And it literally could be for some of the positions that you guys have.

Ashley Miller: We are working on energized lines.

Chad: Yes.

Ashley Miller: It's just, I mean, that we're one of the very few contractors that can do that. You make a wrong mistake and it's fatal, right? So it's serious and that's why there's a lot, there's a connective tissue there for our veterans because it's the same thing. They see it as serving their country like we are building the infrastructure for tomorrow. So it's kind of that honor and pride in what you're doing. It translates very well.

Chad: So what about hydro? Are we doing hydro anytime soon?

Chad: Little bit. We we're starting, we're in the research phase really on the hydrogen front. We've partnered with a lot of different universities, and so we've got a lot of folks that are working, and so we're in that market a little bit. Our big push right now is in our renewable and battery storage, so, you know that when you put on Christmas lights, how many times do you trip over... Like, all the time.

Chad: All the time.

Ashley Miller: All the time, right?

Joel: All the time.

Ashley Miller: So if you think about everybody with an electric vehicle, right? Like signing up the infrastructure's not here today. So we are focussed on that research.

Joel: Oh. Believe me. I am Clark Griswold in the Christmas season. Changing out the lights.

Ashley Miller: Themed with music.

Joel: Rusty. Rusty. Rusty. You guys leverage a lot of communications platforms, SMS, video. Talk about the decision to do that and how effective it is with your recruiting?

Ashley Miller: I think it's getting a lot better. We actually have a podcast.

Chad: What? What?

Ashley Miller: That we own. I know, right? Called Powerline podcast.

Joel: Live from the college that we just bought.

Chad: I love it.

Ashley Miller: No, live from our jobs sites, man.

Joel: Oh, my bad.

Ashley Miller: We've got a pretty big brand marketing group now.

Chad: I think we should be on one of the job sites and do one of these things.

Ashley Miller: Come, come on. I'll introduce you to Ryan, he's great. And you'll see the trades. It's hard. It's hard work. It's hazard.

Chad: Yeah. Oh, hell yeah.

Ashley Miller: But yeah, we're leveraging it. I think we could do better. Of course, partnership with iCIMS is something that we really want to leverage those video stories, so I think that's the next step. But again, going from a decentralized hundred operating unit company with their own culture, their own processes to kind of becoming the power of Quanta is a journey. And we've really just kind of stepped our foot in the water. So, yeah. Exciting.

Joel: That is Ashley Miller, everybody, VP of HR operations at Quanta Services. That ticker symbol is P-W-R Ashley. For our listeners who want to connect with you or the company. Where do you send them?

Ashley Miller: is our website. If you wanna connect with me, it's AMillerSpeaks on Instagram or Ashley E. Miller on LinkedIn.

Joel: That may be our first Instagram, handle we've had on the show and with that.

Joel: I'm a millennial.

Joel: Another one is in the can. We out.

Chad: We out.

S4: Wow, look at you. You made it through an entire episode of The Chad and Cheese podcast. Or maybe you cheated and fast forwarded to the end. Either way, there's no doubt you wish you had that time back. Valuable time you could have used to buy a nutritious meal at Taco Bell. Enjoy a pour of your favorite whiskey, or just watch big booty Latinas and bug fights on TikTok. No, you hung out with these two chuckleheads instead. Now go take a shower and wash off all the guilt, but save some soap because you'll be back. Like an awful train wreck. You can't look away. And like Chad's favorite western, you can't quit them either. We out.


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