Today, I had the great fortune of speaking with Regional Workforce Development Manager, Carla Thompson of Turner Industries Group! As one of the largest maintenance contractors in the United States, Turner Industry Group was established to provide energy solutions to the Houston region. For 57 years, Turner has maintained optimal services as a focal point in the market to increase reliability and operational excellence. Through four divisions — construction; maintenance and turnarounds; fabrication; and equipment and specialty services — Turner provides innovative solutions while meeting production demands.
CW: Thank you, Carla, for taking this opportunity to meet with me! It is exciting to talk about Turner Industries Group’s operations, its inner workings, affiliations, scope and design of your business. Carla, this is such a fantastic company! As one of the leading groups in the construction industry, Turner’s operations seems solid. Based on the tour, the view of the internal onboarding process to external operations to formulating best practices is highly efficient — the true commitment shines through. Can you talk about your role, Turner’s operations and its structure?
CT: I am a Baton Rouge employee that has been assigned to the Houston region as a Workforce Development Manager to manage training and development for the Texas and Western Regions. Currently, I support Beaumont, Houston, Point Comfort, Corpus Christi and Freeport. I have a team of three people: Jay Roberson, Crane & Rigging Coordinator; Kristy Young, Data Specialist; and Jesse Ramirez, Training Coordinator.
It is important for every regional site and construction manager to see who has been credentialed while measuring what they are capable of doing. Turner has strong corporate trainings so we use NCCER curriculum and assessments to develop our people. For an example, a person who comes in as a crane operator would not only have to show us proper credentials to operate that crane but would have to complete a Turner verification first. The card is great, but proficiency has to be verified to validate competency. As we place people on various job sites, our clients demand that our employees perform in their craft at top capacity.
We take on a lot of forms with-in the heavy industrial industry. In other words, we have clients throughout this region where we do maintenance work, capital projects, turnarounds and shut downs on some sites as well as new construction. Depending on the client and their needs, it is very skilled work.
CW: As a leader and someone of your caliber in the day-to-day operational space, can you tell us about your beginnings and the details of how you handled those regions to ramp up your workforce?
CT: I came from an education background and started off in IT. I moved into a paraprofessional role, but my husband had an opportunity to go overseas. We then traveled to the Middle East and while we resided there, I managed an international middle school. Sometime after, we were supposed to go to Singapore, but at the last minute, he was reassigned to St. Paul, Virginia — the western part of Virginia in the Appalachians. They were starting a new construction site. The man who was in charge of training and development was having issues setting up their computer systems. One day, we were all having a discussion while sitting at a picnic table with my husband and told them that I know how to do that. So, I went to work for him part-time loading tests and training programs into the Learning Management System (LMS). I helped set up their computer labs and taught staff how to access it. Eventually, the manager of that department left, but the company had issues finding someone so they asked if I was willing to stay until they found a replacement. Though I was retired, I assured them it was not a problem. I said, “Sure, I can do it!”
I ended up helping the job site by setting up a 3-million-dollar grant received from the State of Virginia through their tobacco grant funding to conduct training and development. We established partnerships with the Workforce Commission and Department of Labor (DOL) and began a DOL apprenticeship. I ended up sitting on a Workforce Investment Board and built out the site’s training program. I just got lucky, but I am a firm believer that if you don’t say no and you are willing to step in the door somewhere, amazing things can happen!
When that project finished, I then transitioned into the nuclear division in South Carolina where they were doing new construction. While on the nuclear site, I added NATEL to support my nuclear certifications for both testing and training. This added to a repertoire of testing and training of what I could do.
This was a travel assignment away from my home state, but a great opportunity to learn and development my skill set. When I arrived on site, I took over doing some craft training, issuing written performances, paperwork, processing and matrix reports while supporting the site’s craft training manger. We had a full NCCER credentialed program so there were certain levels of training required for every craft employee that came through our doors. In order to be employed or work as journeymen, everyone had to be NCCER credentialed. In order to get a raise as a helper, there were certain levels of completion required from the NCCER training programs. I was the one making sure that everyone was on task to do what they were supposed to do. It was a lot of work, but everything was taken care of on that job site.
CW: How did you transition to the Texas Gulf Coast Region?
CT: Turner decided to open up a Workforce Development position in Houston. I interviewed, got the job and was lucky enough to come home to Houston. Previously, I went from Virginia to South Carolina because I had my NCCER Master Trainer and became an Administrator for NCCER. Those credentials supported my job transition to Houston.
Turner Industries has always had a strong workforce development group in Baton Rouge, and they took care of all of Turner Industry regions. My director, Ray Neck, was in charge of all the training and development throughout Turner Industries Group. When I got to come home, the first stop was to visit the Baton Rouge personnel department. Mr. Neck took me around and showed me everything they did. I was introduced to his entire staff who were all incredible. I learned how they prioritized and then came to Texas to build out this region.
CW: It sounds like a huge task. How did you leverage this opportunity to put components into motion?
CT: When I arrived, we had seven people in training.
The Construction Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF) is the educational arm of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Houston. Much of our training is done after hours under this great foundation. Turner Industries Group is a man-hour contributor to CMEF. We pay 6 cents a man-hour to this group and in return, we are able to offer the training at a reduced cost to our employees. If someone wants to be a craftsperson (carpenter, electrician, millwright, boilermaker, pipefitter or crane operator), we put them through craft training programs at CMEF.
CW: How many NCCER trainings are there?
CT: It is incredible. It depends on the need and the region. Carpentry, electrical, scaffolding and millwright are examples. We can offer any program where there is a need. CMEF helps us develop the training when we need it. The key is to have enough interested employees to “make” a class. Right now, we are doing an NCCER Industrial Maintenance Electrical and Instrumentation Technology (E&I) program at San Jacinto College under the CMEF umbrella. Through this CMEF partnership, we get seats at CMEF and at local community colleges. As an example, CMEF is a sponsor of San Jacinto, Lee, and Alvin Community Colleges. Based on where we have employees, we are able to put together courses. We have a village here and it takes a village to upgrade a skilled workforce.
CW: After the series of trainings, how do you stream employment prospects who have completed the training into Turner? Do you pull from a 16 to 24 demographic to fill positions? What is the protocol for onboarding or hiring?
CT: We are an industrial construction company so they have to be 18 years old to be employed by our company. We do have high school programs which is a great benefit to us. If they can get through NCCER Core and the first couple levels of the craft training programs, that means they have a better understanding of what we are looking for as we are attempting to put them to work. We are a huge supporter of our high school programs.
In this region, we support 10 school districts and sponsor 13 high schools. We serve on advisory committees to advise on course curriculums, give financial sponsorship, but more importantly, our managers and supervisors, in addition to our safety specialists, go into the schools to spend time with the kids. By having conversations about their interests, safety specialists take time to explain the advantages of industrial construction and working in the field. When students are deciding on their futures, they are receiving information not only on Turner Industries, but the entire industrial construction workforce. We are extremely active with ABC and CMEF high school youth committees. It is important for us to take a very active seat on these committees by supporting young people in learning. When they turn 18 years of age, we can help them make informed decisions.
CW: What do you think makes Turner Industries so successful? You mentioned an employee who has worked with your company for 19 years?
CT: Honestly, the people. We work for a company that really cares about their people. They don’t just say it, they show it. Second, Turner has a workforce development group that does training and development. As a result, we are able to reach out and talk to our employees. We make the time to do it. I think particularly what makes us so successful is how we onboard young people and help them to get their start. Also, the fact that we are members of ABC and contributors to CMEF. We are not just putting people to work, we are giving them opportunities to get training and learn the job faster to be more successful. Safety is priority, but you cannot have a productive, quality workforce unless you invest the time. Turner Industries does it more so than others, but the good news is there are a lot of great contractors in the Houston region. We work together and are partners. There is certainly a synergy as partners, working together.
CW: Future forward, where does Turner see itself?
CT: I see us staying at the top of our game. I see our company growing. We are building a huge personnel office on this complex based upon the projections for growth over the next 5-7 years. We are pushing the field to include more women. As you walked through and observed, there are women who sit in our offices. I mean we have vice presidents who are women. We support women in our offices, in the field and in our training programs. Women in construction pay great attention to detail, have good organizational skills and move up quickly once they are in the door. One of our best welders in fabrication is a woman.
Actually, we just finished an event for PetroChemWorks. It was a pleasure to invite one of our employees, a woman who is a crane operator and now upskilling in Rigging. It is incredible. Turner looks for the right people for the job. It is something that we do really well. Presently, we are seeking to work further down the coast as we continue to put the right people in places within our company to support our employees.
CW: Turner is a great company doing great work! Thank you so much for your time and this wonderful exchange. All the best to you and Turner Industries!