Reason to Celebrate

Kline Electric employee owners celebrate a memorable year.

Since the company became 100% employee-owned, Kline Electric has made a point of celebrating the team responsible for its success—the employee owners. This past month the employees had even more to cheer about.

“We do an event every year to announce the annual stock valuation,” says Kline President Shane Kline. “We feed everyone and have some kind of games and giveaways. It’s a chance to get our entire team in one place.”

With over 200 team members in four locations, that’s not an easy task, especially in a field where there’s always work to be done and a project—or 2 or 12—going on.

“Everyone shares in our success because everyone’s an owner, and we want to celebrate the hard work everyone’s put into that,” Kline says.

This year’s festivities recognized even more than the rising stock value. “We finished our new building and moved into it last month,” Kline says. “So this celebration was the first time a lot of our team have been able to tour the building.”

The new facility, Kline Headquarters, houses the corporate office staff, freeing up the original building for the Des Moines team. “We were getting pretty crowded at the original space, and we had the land here, with room to build. Now that we’re in, everyone is kind of wondering how we all managed to fit in the old building together,” says Kline.

The company is rapidly expanding beyond the Des Moines area, with two other offices in Iowa and one in Omaha. According to Kline, “We opened our Waterloo location three years ago because of projects we had going with one particular builder. Since then, it’s just continued to grow.”

He says those builder relationships have been key to the company’s expansion. Increased work in the Cedar Rapids area resulted in a second location in the eastern part of the state. And a long-term relationship with D. R. Horton led to the Omaha office.

Those satellite locations have been organic outgrowths of the Kline concept. Each time the company set up a new office, it’s been led by a current Kline team member. “We do things a very specific way, and we want every Kline Electric location to operate with that same culture and philosophy,” Kline says. “The guys leading those new locations then hire local people and train them.”

Kline says the company has opened up the management opportunities to qualified team members each time a new location has been proposed. “The fact that we’ve had great people willing to relocate to get these separate offices going is a reflection of the company culture we’ve developed. These guys have recognized that we’re offering them a chance to move up and get more leadership and management experience, and they’re eager to do that.”

That enthusiasm is contagious. He says new hires at each location are amazed at the Kline difference. “They come in for interviews and find out that working for us isn’t just a paycheck. We provide a clothing allowance, we offer an apprenticeship program, and every employee is part of the ownership program on their eligibility date. It’s a career focus, not just a job.”

Managing each branch individually while nurturing a corporate culture is one of the reasons the company invested in the new building. “This new office space allowed us to separate the Des Moines management team from the corporate team. And it provides space for corporate activities that we didn’t have room for in the original building,” says Kline.

In addition to corporate offices, the new building offers meeting spaces, a small gym that’s available to the entire team, and a classroom for the company’s newest venture, Kline University (see “Kline University”).

“The apprenticeship program is a very big investment,” Kline says. “But we realized that with the way the job market is right now, and if we want to make sure our employees are not just licensed but highly skilled in every area of the business, we needed to be overseeing that education in-house.”

They say if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. At Kline Electric, that’s just the right way to do business. And based on the results Kline Electric continues to see, that’s something to celebrate.

Kline University

The topic of the labor shortage isn’t going away anytime soon. With no clear, universal solution, companies are creating their own paths through that challenge. At Kline Electric, that effort began with the move to 100% employee ownership several years ago.

Last fall Kline went even further. “We had surveyed our apprentice students during our summer review meetings in 2021,” says Kylie Ayala, Employee Development Coordinator/Recruiter for Kline Electric. “The overwhelming response was the structure we were implementing really wasn’t ideal.”

Although the company met semiannually with apprentice students and offered direction and the ability to set goals directly with their management team, as students, they were, for all intents and purposes, on their own. It was obvious that the option available to them wasn’t working.

Not used to sitting around and waiting for a better option, the company created its own. “After getting feedback from our apprentices, and based on my own experience as a recent grad, I went to Shane and said, ‘If we want to get the best results possible, for the students and for the company, we should be doing this in-house,’” says Ayala.

With the help of her colleagues, Ayala did some research, contacted other companies in the metro to see how they approached their own apprentice programs, and then presented her recommendations to the Kline management team.

“We could partner with a number of education providers,” Ayala says, “but I knew that just giving out an online link to students would limit our success. We had to find a way to keep everyone on pace and accountable, but also go above and beyond in providing them guidance and resources to make sure they had what they needed not just to pass the Journeyman test but to do their jobs.”

The solution was Kline University and a new role at the company for Ayala. “After I presented my recommendation for the program, they asked me if I would be interested in leading it,” she says. “If I were to describe my dream job, this would be it, so of course I said yes.”

Ayala schedules and oversees the apprenticeship coursework for all four levels of the program. “We had three groups of Level 1 students begin in the fall and then moved on to Levels 2, 3, and 4 in February,” Ayala says. The first students will graduate this June and take their Journeyman exam in July.

The classes meet one afternoon a week so that students can still maintain a nearly full-time work schedule, with the option of putting in some extra hours in the field to reach full-time.

“That was one of the things we heard from students,” Ayala explains. “Classes used to be in the evening, after they’d put in a full day’s work and after the instructors had put in a full day’s work.”

This often resulted in lower retention rates with both students and instructors need to find the energy to focus at the end of the day. With the Kline University structure, students spend their class day going through the online coursework together, with Ayala guiding the discussion and providing additional application questions and explanations.

Ayala says, “We also have a full schedule of labs where they do hands-on work, actually putting into practice what they’ve been learning. Shane is involved with that almost every week, and we bring in field team members to lead the different labs so that the students are learning directly from someone with expertise in that area.”

The program kicked off last fall. The first students to complete Level 1 training scored an average 10–15% higher than students in the previous program, which is a pretty clear indication that the new classroom format and support is effective.

“I’m anxious to see how that translates to scores on the Journeyman’s exam this fall,” says Kline. “From what we’re seeing so far, I anticipate we’ll have higher scores there, too.” That sounds like another reason to celebrate.