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Investing in Employees

Photo of Senior Vice President of Administration for Pike Corporation James Banner

The NC Chamber is honored to share the stories of our members’ leadership in attracting, hiring, and upskilling a world-class workforce while advancing talent pipelines statewide.

For this Executive Memo Q&A, we ask Senior Vice President of Administration for Pike Corporation James Banner about Pike’s productive apprenticeship program and effective military hiring initiative. He discusses how employees are invested in working for the companies that invest in their success. Pike is currently recognized by US Veterans Magazine, GI Jobs Magazine, and the Military Times as a Veteran Friendly Employer.

NC Chamber: How long has Pike provided its Career Development Program (CDP), the in-house lineman apprenticeship program?

James Banner: Pike has provided the Career Development Program for 18 years since its creation in 2003.

How has the CDP evolved since the start of the apprenticeship program (partnerships with community colleges, changes in curriculum, etc.)?

The CDP has worked with continued guidance from ApprenticeshipNC since its inception and has remained largely unchanged since it was introduced as an online tool in 2007. However, the governance of ApprenticeshipNC has changed hands from the NC Department of Labor to the Department of Commerce, and finally to the NC Community College System (NCCCS).

What steps must a business take to have its apprenticeship program certified by the US Department of Labor and NC Department of Commerce?

Our program was nationally approved by the US Department of Labor through ApprenticeshipNC, our registration agency. We work closely with Kathryn P. Castelloes, director of apprenticeship, and Tiffany Jacobs, our consultant. Based on our experience, we would suggest a business interested in developing their own apprenticeship program to follow this link for step-by-step instructions on how to build and register with the help of ApprenticeshipNC.

What are the duties of Pike’s CDP Administrator? What skill sets do they need to be successful in this position?

Our CDP Administrator works with our ApprenticeshipNC consultant to process all administrative tasks for each apprentice including new enrollments, cancellations, revisions, and completions. They must be able to learn and utilize the ApprenticeshipNC database; enter Field Performance Reviews (FPRs) into the Learning Management System; provide progress updates to the apprentice and their supervision; utilize the VAONCE database through the US Department of Veteran Affairs; submit Enrollment Certifications and Monthly Hours certifications to the US Dept of Veteran Affairs; work closely with the VA Approving Agency to assist with audits; and maintain detailed records for each apprentice and Veteran apprentice.

Who reviews the students as they progress through the program?

The apprentice’s field leadership – Foreman, General Foreman, Area Supervisor, and Safety personnel – consistently reviews and works with an apprentice through on-the-job observation and performance evaluations. The CDP Administrator reviews their progress throughout the program and maintains their respective records within the learning management system.

Will you discuss the differences in the skills and knowledge evaluated via your CDP online coursework and tests versus Field Performance Reviews (FPRs)?

Pike’s CDP consists of 8,000 hours of on-the-job experience coupled with coursework, tests, and successful completion of all Field Performance Reviews by the apprentice’s supervision. The online coursework gives us an idea of the apprentice’s knowledge – to help them learn the “whys” behind their career – while the Field Performance Reviews evaluate the apprentice’s level of skill on the job. Both are equally important to ensure the apprentice is fully capable of performing line work thoroughly and safely.

What advice do you have for a business looking to launch an apprenticeship program?

An apprenticeship program is an excellent opportunity to benefit both the employer and employees. Known as the “other 4-year degree,” an apprenticeship allows your employees to be paid to learn instead of paying to learn. In the end, a company obtains skilled and knowledgeable employees who are invested in a company that has taken the time to invest in them.

How does Pike work with the Department of Veterans Affairs? What are the responsibilities of Pike’s Manager of Talent & Veterans Affairs?

Our relationship with the Department of Veterans Affairs is two-fold. 1) They inspect and evaluate our program’s administration while we report our employees’ participation hours to the VA so they will receive their GI Bill benefits. 2) Our Manager of Talent Acquisition and Veteran Affairs establishes and maintains collaborative relationships with military installations, veteran service organizations, and veteran employment programs across the nation to ensure veterans are aware of the opportunities available to them. He monitors our program performance against national standards to ensure we maintain compliance with OFCCP and VEVRAA guidelines for veteran hiring by federal contractors. He also submits our organization for recognition when opportunities arise – Pike is currently recognized by US Veterans Magazine, GI Jobs Magazine, and the Military Times as a Veteran Friendly Employer.

Our Manager of Talent Acquisition and Veteran Affairs is actively engaged as the Military Liaison for NCSHRM, represents Pike on the leadership team of NC4ME, is a member of the Board of Directors for Whole Vet a 501(C)(3) supporting veterans and military families, and is an active supporter of the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Economic Empowerment Zone in NC. He also maintains regular contact with our veteran employees, leadership, and veteran and military spouse applicants to ensure all are being supported both at work and at home.

Pike also shares best practices with other employers through our membership with the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD). We also routinely engage with the CEWD Troops to Energy group to advocate for veterans and share opportunities for them in the energy sector.

What is your role on the Executive Steering Committee of NC4ME (North Carolina For Military Employment)?

Pike began working with Kimberly Williams at NC4ME in 2018 to help us establish a veteran hiring initiative. At the time, members of the armed forces represented less than 3 percent of Pike new hires. We felt the synergies among lineworkers and members of the military were too abundant for our percentage to be so low. Over the past three to four years, we have increased our veteran hiring to almost 11 percent and could not be more pleased with the quality of employee that the initiative has allowed us to obtain.

As a member of the Executive Steering Committee, we ensure NC business leaders are educated on the value of hiring a military workforce while providing a template to small businesses and HR professionals on how to hire military personnel effectively. NC4ME is always looking for ways to connect military talent to open jobs and serves as a complement to the vast number of hiring programs preparing veterans for civilian employment.

Will you share tips for NC businesses trying to attract, hire, and retain military talent?

There are many ways to engage the veteran and military spouse community in NC and nationally. Some ways to start:

  • Identify your veteran employees and who your Champions may be – those current employees who will help demonstrate the value of hiring veterans, while also helping to screen veteran applications and advocate for your company in the veteran community.
  • Identify mentors and trainers to ensure the transition experience is positive. New veteran employees will find it helpful to have a person to lean on for simple questions they might have, such as a company’s dress code or any unwritten protocols.
  • Verify the best military jobs (MOS or AFSC) for your roles. Some military jobs are direct matches, while others will give an employee the requisite skills and only require minor training for them to learn the specifics of the task in your organization.
  • Determine which positions are the best fit for veterans and remember they don’t have to relate to specific military specialties. Be flexible and look at skill matches.
  • Take the time to dig into a veteran’s experiences – they often speak of their team’s contribution rather than their own. Tell them a little about the role and ask when they have performed similar tasks. Often, the titles for roles and tasks may not be the same and the description will help them understand what the new role entails. They will be able to correlate their experiences to the task.
  • Add a simple Yes or No question to candidate applications and profiles to identify veteran applicants or military spouses.
  • Military spouses are often more educated than their spouses. Because of military moves, many spouses choose to further their education when they can’t find employment, especially in overseas assignments where employment opportunities may be limited. Ignore the fact that they may change jobs and even industries every two or three years. This is not job-hopping and should not discourage you from hiring them.
  • There’s no magic solution for retention. However, employees appreciate consistent communication and acknowledgment that you value their contributions. Also, the steps needed to progress in military careers are typically laid out very clearly in the first days of service – and veterans are used to this. Developing clear career paths and sharing those with your new veteran employees will greatly enhance retention.