PART 2: MasTec’s Apprenticeship Mission

One of the first steps in MasTec Utility Services Group’s learning journey was to create a worldclass apprenticeship program for its electric utility lineworkers.

Training magazine began looking at MasTec’s Utility Services Group’s journey to create a culture of learning throughout its organization in the January/February 2014 issue. This culture of learning is destined to support MasTec’s goals of recruiting the best talent in the utility construction industry, developing those individuals to set them up for success, and ultimately retaining their top talent.

Creating a culture of learning is an ambitious endeavor for any team, especially while still required to run the business and achieve set results. But MasTec’s USG Employee Development Team’s overarching objectives were clear:

  • Build training programs that would promote the safety and competence of employees.
  • Tie learning to career progression.

To begin achieving these objectives, our first mission was to establish a world-class apprenticeship program for our electric utility lineworkers. An apprenticeship program combines on-the-job training with academic instruction for employees. The curriculum for MasTec’s Utility Services Group’s lineman apprenticeship program, which launched in January 2014, is designed to promote up-to-date, safety-related work practices and technical skills related to the installation, maintenance, and removal of transmission and distribution systems.

This apprentice program helps employees build skills that promote safety and competence on the job, but the exciting draw for many of our employees is the clear career path the program provides. Their job title and status, salary, and marketability all increase as they progress through the program. Upon successful completion of the three- to four-year apprenticeship program, an employee officially becomes a lineman. He or she earns an official Lineman’s card and certificate of completion from the United States Department of Labor.

The first step was to analyze the job itself. We needed to determine the knowledge, skills, and abilities an underground or overhead lineman needed to demonstrate to be successful on the job. We came up with a list of 136 skills and abilities. These would serve as learning objectives within the training modules.

We then partnered with a third-party organization within the utility construction industry to develop the training curriculum. This allowed us to balance instruction that is standard across the industry with the MasTec-specific instruction we want to provide our employees. The curriculum is made up of a blend of video courses, instructor-led classes, and on-the-job training. A supervisor also follows up each training event with a performance observation to validate that the employee is successfully applying the skills while on the job.

The training is mapped to a multi-year development plan for each employee. This enables them to continue to increase on-the-job experience while gaining new skills online and in the classroom along the way.

The on-the-job training component of this program is critical. Participants send in their monthly work records to validate that they’re getting the required hours of applied, hands-on practice in the field. They’re getting literally thousands of hours of practice to ensure the skills they’re taught are never going dormant.

At the end of each year, participants meet with an apprenticeship supervisory board to ensure their training progress and work status are in good standing, confirm they’re ready to move on to the next phase, and be rewarded with an applicable pay rate increase. They receive feedback around where they are excelling and where they may have opportunities to continue to grow. This helps employees set goals and expectations for the next year, and ensures they understand how the training they’ll be taking can support their growth.

The benefits of our lineman apprenticeship program for each participant are clear (knowledge and skills built, dedicated coaching, career advancement, and financial reward), but our entire organization stands to benefit, as well. A world-class training program will assist in recruiting both new and proven talent. Potential employees see a bright future and a promising career path. The training each employee receives also will benefit the organization through overall increased safety and productivity. There’s nothing more important than safe work practices and productivity in the utility construction industry. Another anticipated benefit is retention. We’re optimistic that employees will respond to the investment MasTec is making in them with loyalty.

Next steps for our lineman apprenticeship program include expanding to additional regions. Because of the prominence of MasTec’s electrical distribution business in the Southeast region of the United States, we partnered with the North Carolina Department of Labor to gain accreditation with the United States Department of Labor. In spring 2014, we plan to launch similar programs in Texas and Florida. We’ll also look to expand the program to other service lines the MasTec Utility Services Group supports, such as gas distribution and telecommunications.

Our future plans for the lineman apprenticeship program also entail a great deal of analyses. As of mid-January, we had accepted nearly 60 apprentices into the program. We intend to keep a close eye on the safety and productivity statistics of those individuals and their crews. We plan to measure the long-term impacts of the program, as well. We’re optimistic that we’ll see positive trends in both business and personnel metrics.

Later this year, we’ll take a look at some of the initial results after the launch of this lineman apprenticeship program and other training initiatives MasTec’s Utility Services Group is establishing in 2014 to evolve the business and create the culture of learning throughout the organization. It will be exciting to identify the wins that have been achieved and uncover the opportunities to improve and lessons learned as we blaze a trail toward creating a first-rate learning organization.

John Congemi is director of Employee Development, Utility Services Group, MasTec North America, Inc.