Q&A with CEWD’s New Vice Chair: Vivek Arora

Vivek Arora is Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel for the Mears Group, Inc. Mears is a subsidiary of Quanta Services, Inc. and was the first contractor to become a member of CEWD. He has extensive experience in change management for growth-oriented companies and is known for his success building relationships and teams, and for promoting growth through innovation. He has been described as a problem solver and a creative thinker. He holds a BA from University of Pennsylvania, a JD from Columbia University School of Law and an MBA from Rice University.

Q: How will you apply your traits as a problem solver and creative thinker to your role as CEWD’s new Vice Chair?

A: CEWD is a fantastic organization.

CEWD has been tremendously successful over its history. Our goal is to help solve workforce development issues for the entire energy industry. To achieve this, we need to look at doing things differently. The steps we take over the next few years may make some in the organization uncomfortable. But that’s OK. We can work with them and get them comfortable. What’s important is that we stay true to our mission and make sure everyone understands the direction.   

The energy industry is pretty vast and encompasses a number of different subindustries, including nuclear, gas, electric, renewables and others. We have to think of unique ways to get the key stakeholders from different industries to work together on common themes. We have to make the industry more attractive to new generations. Energy may not be the flashiest industry – it won’t make the front page of the newspaper like Amazon and Google – but there’s a lot of technology and innovation in our industry that we don’t do a good job of marketing. How can we think about what we do differently, and reframe what the industry is about, to make it more attractive to folks? It requires some new ways of thinking about things.

With respect to my leadership style, I’m more of an influencer than a command and control leader. I prefer to help lead people to the spot we need to get to, rather than forcing them there. I find that to be tremendously more successful. If you force them, you don’t get ultimate buy-in. So building relationships, helping people understand the why, that’s what I hope to do. I want to help people better understand the mission.

For example, at our last Board meeting we expanded the definition of who could be a member of CEWD. Our definition of who could be a member was more limiting than it should have been. We will be expanding our base to welcome those who work with renewables, electric vehicle infrastructure support and energy storage. We also elected to include a new level of membership for companies that provide ancillary services to the energy industry, such as equipment suppliers, the people who design the equipment that helps us make our services more efficient and cleaner. The Board felt it was the right direction to go, but this was a different way of looking at things.

Q: What excites you about the work of CEWD and where do you see opportunities for the organization as it continues to help ensure a pipeline of well-prepared energy workers?

A: CEWD has been very successful at helping organizations solve their problems and serving as an excellent resource for them. For example, CEWD has been really good about collecting the data that shows what jobs we need to fill in the energy industry, where we have gaps in the pipeline.  This is helpful information for organizations to make themselves better individually and to help them attract and develop more talent.

But one area where CEWD can improve is marketing the careers we have to offer. We talk about jobs, but we don’t talk enough about careers. There are a lot of people for whom formal education just isn’t the right fit and they are looking for successful careers where they can still apply knowledge and continue to learn in a different environment. The energy industry offers an alternative path for so many people in this country who are looking for that. They don’t necessarily need to spend four years in college and acquire a lot of debt. We offer those people lots of options to have very successful careers. You can work your way up and lead in our industry without having a college degree. We provide career paths for individuals across a whole spectrum of preferences.

We’re not very good as an industry in talking about this in a way that can excite folks. In fact, many people do not even realize how the energy industry impacts them. For example, if you’re working from home now, you can’t do that without heat, without electricity, without broadband. Without the energy industry, none of that’s even possible. Fracking and oil dominates the conversation in politics. We’re not talking about the things that affect our daily lives. And there are plenty of opportunities to do that. For example, when there are hurricanes, who restores the power? We’re providing critical services to people, but this is one of those things that we don’t do a good enough job of marketing.

Q: How do you hope to engage more contractors with CEWD and why do you think this is important?

The more CEWD embraces all facets of the companies that work in the energy industry, the more attractive it is to each member. And contractors are key to providing that holistic view of what the energy industry is all about.

We were the first contractor to join CEWD and we’re proud of that. Within a year of joining, I was asked to be on the Board. I was happy to do it. When I started showing up at CEWD meetings, we were talking to community colleges about the challenges of getting jobs for their graduates. Many of the existing CEWD members at the time hired in batches, and these schools have people who come out throughout the year looking for jobs. As contractors, we can solve that problem because we’re hiring year-round. So much work in the field is outsourced to contractors. Contractors have a significant presence when you talk about the number of people they employ in the industry.  It’s absolutely critical that contractors are part of these conversations.

We are working to customize some of CEWD’s services for the contractor community. For example, collecting information about key jobs is different for contractors than it is for utilities. We are project-based and have higher turnover. Also, utilities operate in more specific geographic locations, perhaps covering multiple states, but generally within a specific region. Contractors are all over the place. The nature of data collection for us is different. Calculating how many jobs will be available in the next five years is very difficult for us.

CEWD won’t be able to adjust to the way it collects this data without contractors participating in the process. To encourage more to join, CEWD lowered dues for contractors. 

Q: How do you see the energy industry changing over the next few years? What do you think CEWD can do to help energy companies and their education partners prepare for these changes?

In the current political discourse, there are different philosophies regarding what the energy industry should look like. CEWD should stay on top of that so it can help companies transition from one industry to another. Can you imagine if miners were looking for jobs and we had a whole program that reskilled them to other industries? That’s a bold mission for CEWD but there’s no reason we couldn’t try this in the future as the nature of the industry changes and evolves. Renewables will continue to grow, and the more we can stay ahead of that and reskill individuals who are part of an industry on the downward trend into those areas on the upward trend, we can make ourselves a very valuable resource by helping them do it the right way. It’s a bold goal for CEWD and we don’t have the resources right now but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it a goal.

CEWD is a special organization because its mission is developing the workforce for the energy industry – not just recruiting talent but developing it. As the energy industry evolves to whatever it becomes, CEWD can play a really special role in helping shape how our employees and their families continue to evolve with it. Right now, we are focused on the companies but I want us to find a way to really connect with the employees in the industry so they can recognize us as a resource as well. We’re a long way from that.

We need to find a way to put the focus on the people who really matter, the employees and the communities we serve.