Pavlov Media Diversifying the Technology Workforce

How a Fiber Provider to Multifamily Housing Is Diversifying the Technology Workforce

by Sarah Daniels

It’s little wonder that the fiber optic business is booming. American appetites for high-speed, high-volume Internet connectivity have skyrocketed in recent years, making fiber essential to provide Internet service across commercial property types.

Employment for the linemen who build out and maintain those networks will grow 6 percent between 2021 and 2031, while telecommunications equipment installation jobs in general will expand to an even greater 8 percent, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Factor in the ongoing exodus of skilled workers from all trades as more of the nation’s Baby Boomers enter retirement, and many broadband providers may struggle to fill job openings in the coming years.

That’s one of the reasons Pavlov Media, a Champaign, Ill.-based Internet service provider, is partnering with a Texas university to put students on career paths in fiber technology. Its partner in this endeavor, Prairie View A&M University, was founded in 1876 and is the second oldest public institution of higher education in Texas and one of the earliest 1890 Land Grant Institutions. Because it is a historically black institution, the program will be helping to address a longstanding need for greater diversity, equity and inclusiveness (DEI) in the technology sector.

Michelle Werner,
Pavlov Media

“This is a huge opportunity to get in touch with people who want to work in the field and get them to learn the Pavlov Media way,” says Michelle Werner, Pavlov Media’s director of construction and field operations. “We will get a direct pipeline of candidates who are enrolled in a residential wireman program and are interested in our industry. If this proves to be a successful pathway to hires, we will be looking at other colleges in markets where we need interested students.”

Earning While Learning

Prairie View A&M is one of Texas’s oldest universities. With a campus 40 miles northwest of Houston and an annual enrollment of approximately 8,900 students, the school has earned international recognition for agricultural research, architecture, business, engineering and more. The program with Pavlov Media is one of several employer relationships under Prairie View A&M’s apprenticeship program, which is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor and operated by the school’s Rural Workforce Academy.

Thanks to a partnership with Workforce Solutions, a public agency serving the Houston-Galveston Area Council (of governments), students receive an hourly wage during approximately 240 hours of work-based study in preparation for internships with Pavlov Media. In addition to learning about low-voltage line installation, participants complete OSHA safety, hazardous-materials and emergency response training. Students also earn basic industry certifications in network devices, software and protocols established by the Computing Technology Industry Association.

Laura Jones,
Prairie View A&M

“That (certification training) is critical because sometimes the technicians in the field talk to the network engineers, and it goes smoother if they understand the language and the technology,” explains Laura Jones, a workforce development program specialist at Prairie View A&M.

Students also learn construction skills ranging from the use of power and hand tools to reading blueprints. Construction was one of the key elements Pavlov Media requested in the curriculum, so apprentices would know how to repair or avoid inadvertent property damage that could occur during line installations.

After completing Rural Workforce Academy coursework, students apply and interview for apprenticeships. Those that Pavlov Media hires receive coaching on the employer’s methods and preferred practices in low-voltage line installation. Hired apprentices progress to 400 hours of on-the-job training with a Pavlov Media team.

Jones was already familiar with Pavlov Media through the company’s work on student housing properties at Prairie View A&M. She suggested an apprenticeship program with the company soon after Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office announced a goal to bring broadband access to the state’s unserved and underserved communities in 2021. In June of that year, the governor signed several measures intended to help the state effectively deploy federal funding on projects that increase broadband access throughout the state.

“I knew some people that work for Pavlov Media and I reached out to them and said, hey, this is a program we can do,” Jones recalls. “We have electric wiremen and cybersecurity (training), and really, a low-voltage installer is a hybrid of those two occupations.”

As an agricultural and mechanical school, Prairie View A&M is interested in developing the rural workforce to support agricultural communities, Jones says. Internet service is scarce in those areas, so Pavlov Media’s apprenticeship program will be instrumental in supplying skilled workers needed to expand broadband access in small cities and towns.

Line technicians typically travel to remote worksites, too, so many apprentices that go on to become full-time Pavlov Media employees will be able to work from their home communities without needing to relocate, Jones says. “This allows them to have a home base within the community and travel, so it is just a perfect fit.”

A Two-Way Street

Pavlov Media executives are excited about the apprenticeship program in more ways than one, says Leslie Hess, the company’s vice president of human resources. Although Pavlov Media will be sharing from its wealth of industry know-how and experience, the organization hopes to learn from its apprentices as well.

“The cross-generational transfer of knowledge is a two-way street,” Hess observes. “We are giving these individuals an opportunity, but we are also able to draw upon their knowledge, their creativity and their vantage point. They can teach us from a different perspective that we may not have considered.”

That openness to all perspectives goes beyond a generational context to include people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, such as military veterans and people dealing with disabilities, Hess adds. Those viewpoints help Pavlov Media understand and better serve employees and customers alike, even as the company invests time and resources to introduce new workers to career opportunities in telecommunications.

Apprentices may use their line technician training as a stepping stone to other areas of the industry. Technology is a constantly evolving field, Hess says, so Pavlov Media continually invests in training to help its people grow and meet new challenges. In fact, the company encourages individuals to follow their interests and work to advance within the organization.

Whether or not Pavlov Media’s apprentices remain at the company after their program ends, they will earn a valuable skillset with wide-ranging applications.

“We are giving back so that people — employees and people who may become employees — can be successful and take that knowledge with them wherever they go,” Hess says. “Part of being a leader is giving people the tools they need to be successful, wherever that may be.”

— By Matt Hudgins. This article was written in conjunction with Pavlov Media, a content partner of REBusinessOnline. For more information on Pavlov Media, click here.

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