Founded in 1974 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, TIC – The Industrial Company is a direct- hire general industrial construction company and a founding member of NCCER. TIC provides construction services to traditional industrial markets across the U.S., including power, mining, oil, gas and chemical, renewable energy, general services and maintenance and substation installations.
TIC, like many contractors, needs to bolster its workforce to accommodate the influx of large- scale projects now that the economy is growing again. To address the industry’s shortage of craft professionals, TIC works primarily to recruit new talent through education partnerships and invest in its current workforce to ensure longevity and efficiency.
For TIC, overcoming the challenge of recruiting new craft professionals entails strengthening its relationships with schools near its project sites. One such school is Navajo Technical University (NTU) in Crown Point, New Mexico, and like many of its education partnerships, this one began with a cold call to a career and technical education (CTE) instructor. Jeff Rodenberg, director of TIC‘s Craft Training Center, reached out to NTU’s electrical instructor to discuss how they could support each other.
“You can’t establish relationships on the phone or in email; you have to show up,” said Rodenberg. “Take the instructors out to lunch, look at their labs, and show them some NCCER books.” In response, Rodenberg recalled being told on his first visit, “’You’re the first company that has ever actually shown up.’”
Before the meeting, Rodenberg recognized that he would likely be seen as an outsider since NTU is located on a Navajo reservation. Navajo people have their own unique culture and language, so Rodenberg recruited the help of a friend from the area: the Navajo County schools superintendent. In doing so, Rodenberg added an element of trust to the relationship dynamic during the visit while also overcoming the potential language barrier, something he encourages everyone to do.
“Look for someone within your organization who already has a relationship in that area and bring them with you,” said Rodenberg. “You need a friendly face. Bring a local company, a school alumnus, someone familiar, at least until the relationship forms.”
After a successful first meeting, TIC began to sponsor the electrical program at NTU by providing it with surplus materials and training aids, such as drawings and company manuals. Often times, TIC has resources that cost little to them but have great value to schools.
“You have to invest and keep these relationships going,” Rodenberg said. “Teachers are looking for anything they can use. We had 10 instructors come visit us, and based on their available school budget, these guys can’t even buy pens. They really need money, and something as simple as a safety poster or banner is huge. Be smart about it – toss your logo on it and you get free publicity.”
As part of the collaboration, TIC is invited each semester to present to NTU’s CTE students. Beyond advertising the great pay and exciting opportunities available in the construction industry, Rodenberg emphasizes how hard the work can be and the long hours that are sometimes required.
“Students with a false idea of the work will not stick with the career,” said Rodenberg. “If expectations are established up front, that is one less barrier to finding a valuable, long-term employee.”
During the first summer of the partnership, the NTU electrical instructor reached out to Rodenberg about the possibility of working at TIC for a few months. Rodenberg seized the opportunity, and now the instructor works on a TIC job site for up to 12 weeks during the summer. This helps the instructor better understand TIC’s needs, identify content to teach students and stay current on industry developments. In addition, this arrangement grows the relationship between TIC and NTU. All of this is accomplished while the instructor receives a paycheck.
“Everyone wins,” said Rodenberg. “This helps the instructor identity students in his program that are a good fit for TIC and point them out to us.”
As a result, TIC uses this informal model of hiring instructors during the summer with all of its education partners where possible. Also, TIC invites up to a dozen instructors from partner schools to visit a job site and show them the latest technology and methods being used in the field.
“Instructors are very thankful for these opportunities because it helps keep them connected to the construction world outside their classrooms,” said Rodenberg.
Recruiting new workers is only one part of the education-industry equation TIC employs to strengthen its workforce. Developing new and existing employees is critical. To train in the most efficient way possible, TIC brings in trainees from project sites all over the country once a year for three weeks to at its training center in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
This academy-style training conducted at the training center increases worker productivity because it allows trainees to receive the required 150 hours of formalized training in three weeks and take that knowledge to the field and apply it. To complete the program, trainees repeat the process annually for four years – or just three years if they already have NCCER credentials. Rodenberg believes this style of training is a wise investment because it enables apprentices to leave the job site and concentrate on the skills they are learning.
“We love to get men and women into our training program early in their career,” said Rodenberg. “This allows them to get all of the classroom and technical skills that they will need as they progress from laborer to helper to journeyman.”
The results of collaborating with NTU were not immediate for TIC. The only hire made in the first year of the partnership was the instructor during the summer. However, three students were hired the following spring. According to Rodenberg, it is the quality that matters and quality takes commitment. He estimates that the retention rate for students coming from these types of programs is close to 70 percent.
“It’s not about getting more schools under your NCCER flag,” he said. “Each school has their own sponsor from a nearby job site. Keep that relationship personal if you want success. If you’re not investing schools or relationships, you’re not going to find and hire as many quality graduates.”
In addition, students benefit greatly from NTU’s collaboration with TIC. Not only is there a direct connection to a potential employer, an NTU student is able to come into TIC’s apprenticeship program as a second-year journeyman.
Now in its third year of partnership with NTU, TIC has a small, but steady stream of NTU-graduates entering its workforce. Rodenberg says that the secret to strong industry-education partnerships is in the relationship, specifically with instructors. Not only do instructors train students to meet TIC’s needs, they also acquaint them with the TIC culture. Upon graduation, instructors are eager to recommend the best students to TIC for employment.
The success with NTU is only part of TIC’s program to connect with education. It is now in the process of increasing collaboration with schools across the country near its project sites to create a local pipeline of craft professionals who are likely stay with the company even after the project is complete.
In addition, being able to harness the potential of students through its academy-style training program allows TIC to maximize its return on investment and retain highly skilled craft professionals for many years. A meaningful industry-education pathway is about more than numbers; it is about creating quality relationships that last for generations.