CWJJ Episode 50: Eric Christenson
CWJJ Episode 50: Eric Christenson
March 25, 2021
CWJJ Episode 52: Laura Morrow
April 8, 2021

CWJJ Episode 51(The Lost Episode): Rob Darden

Thursday, April 1- Rob Darden joins the show to talk about the DCA, Energy in the USA, AND the DCA involvement with the Mike Rowe show, Six Degrees, premiering on the main Discovery Channel on Sunday, April 11 at 9pm CDT.

Quick Links:

Rob Darden LinkedIn

Episode Transcript

Jim Schauer:  [0:24] Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, to this week’s episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.”

[0:30] Now, I know to the audience you always expect my wacky intros, but today is a little bit different. We’re right in the midst of the new logo launch, which I love, new mugs.

[0:42] And if you look at James, he has a microphone headset. This guy is going gangbusters on this. So I think that’s a great thing. Then, plus, on a serious note, talking about DCA the Distribution Contractors Association.

[0:58] You know, when I was CEO of a contractor firm from 2015 to ’18 the DCA was instrumental. So today I just didn’t feel like a little wacky intro. So James, I hope that doesn’t disappoint you at all.

[0:00] :

James Cross:  [1:13] Man, I think…

[0:00] :

Jim:  [1:14] It’ll probably give you some relief.

[0:00] :

James:  [1:15] It’s like I got dressed up and nowhere to go. You know, I upgraded my experience. I expected the same end on your part.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [1:22] We’re getting there.

[0:00] :

James:  [1:22] But, Jim, we’re rolling out some upgrades. That was something we vowed to our audience is we were going to lean into it and roll some things out.

[1:32] So we’re seeing some of that. We’re going to bring up the quality, even if it’s just Jim and I. I mean, you can only bring it up so far, I guess.

[1:40] But you mentioned swag. I was going to say one thing. We got new swag in this week. Check out these golf balls. I don’t know if you can zoom in, the quality, VICE golf balls.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [1:51] Ooh.

[0:00] :

Rob Darden:  [1:51] Ooh.

[0:00] :

James:  [1:54] Very cool. And, and we’re prototyping some hats and such, new hats, kind of cool, simple one. So that’s cool.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [2:01] That’s why you needed my mailing address, right? [laughs]

[0:00] :

James:  [2:03] That’s exactly right.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [2:04] That’s exactly it.

[0:00] : [

Rob:  [2:06] laughs]

[0:00] :

James:  [2:06] You spoiled it for every guest. No, if you haven’t noticed, we do have a guest on today. We’re just not talking around in circles. Rob Darden is with us from DCA. Rob, good morning.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [2:15] Morning.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [2:16] Good morning.

[0:00] :

James:  [2:17] Super pumped to have you. Rob and I have crossed paths several times. They do awesome stuff at DCA.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [2:24] Yes.

[0:00] :

James:  [2:25] And we’re excited to bring him on to talk about some of the exciting things they have going on right now. So Jimmy, if you want to lead off the show, let’s go for it.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [2:34] It is my pleasure, Rob, are you ready?

[0:00] :

Rob:  [2:36] I’m ready.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [2:37] Have you prepped yourself? Because this is going to be intense.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [2:40] Man, I got, I got notes. I got, you know, I got everything. I’m set. [laughs]

[0:00] :

Jim:  [2:45] All right, this, this first one is going to be coming fast. Ready?

[0:00] :

Rob:  [2:48] Yeah, here we go.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [2:49] No, on a serious note, to help our audience and to help our viewers to understand, can you give us a little bit of a overview of the DCA as well as their involvement in our workforce and kind of that connect the dots?

[0:00] :

Rob:  [3:02] Sure, sure. And I’ll back up by saying I haven’t met you, Jim, I don’t think. But James, I, you and I have met a couple times. And I was out in, out in your neck of the woods, way out there in Decatur, Texas, visiting the offices when my son worked for you guys.

[0:00] :

James:  [3:18] Yep, yep.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [3:19] I…

[0:00] :

Jim:  [3:20] Andrew.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [3:20] …works for Atmos Energy and is doing great, but loves his experience with EWN.

[3:26] But DCA, DCA, Distribution Contractors Association, for those who aren’t familiar with it. If you think of the gas pipeline system in the country, there’s 2.5 million miles of it. 2.2 million of it, give or take, is the distribution system.

[3:43] And that’s from the town border station into the cities to the homes to the businesses. And you know, it’s a, it’s a lot of work.

[3:52] And we’ve got almost we’re about 95 contractors about 135 associate members around the country. Some do both just do the distribution, but also do the transmission. So the whole issue of Keystone and what the future holds is high on our agenda.

[4:10] So this association, we meet, we used to meet, [laughs] so hopefully we’ll meet once again. Several times a year we have our annual convention mid‑year meeting, fall Safety Congress.

[4:21] We do a joint meeting with the American Gas Association every April, which was canceled last year and this year. Hopefully, we’ll do it again next year.

[4:31] But as an associate, we’re very active committees and safety and horizontal directional drilling and scholarship and labor and membership etc., etc., and workforce.

[4:42] And that’s been a big, big issue for us over the last several years. We’ve really focused on it because there’s so many, as I said, there’s 2.5, 2.2 million miles of natural gas distribution pipeline.

[4:56] And there’s so much work that the, you know, companies turn down the work. There aren’t enough workers to do, to do the work.

[5:03] So we’ve done a real heavy focus on on workforce, gotten together with several partners, SkillsUSA, if you’re familiar with that. There are 400,000 kids, they took the shop out of high schools.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [5:20] Yeah.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [5:21] This organization used to be called VICA and now it’s SkillsUSA. But they stepped in and have, you know, as I said, about 400,000 kids around the country. And we’ve been partners with them for the last several years.

[5:33] Center for Energy Workforce Development, CEWD, we’re active with that. I’m on the board of, of CEWD. And so we’re doing a lot and with them on the workforce development.

[5:47] We also have Center for Generational Kinetics. I’m just kind of throwing things out there. But hey, they developed a whole playbook for us on how to work with the millennials and Gen Zs and appeal to that younger generation.

[6:01] And then finally we’ve done some work with the mikeroweWORKS Foundation and Mike Rowe. So it’s been a, it’s been a, I’ve been there 12 years.

[6:12] I’m for, with, this is our 60th anniversary, and I’m the third chief executive of the organization. So tenure has been good.

[[6:20] laughter]

[0:00] :

Rob:  [6:21] Hope it continues that way. I’ve been here 12, looking for another 8 to 10, so.

[0:00] :

James:  [6:25] Don’t, don’t mess it up, Rob.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [6:27] Don’t mess, I know. I’m trying, I’m trying, just…

[0:00] :

James:  [6:29] Rob, you mentioned some of the partnerships. And actually, that was one of the things I wanted to talk about today.

[6:36] I for one of saw the initiative for, at the Workforce Summit with, you know, the folks out of Austen. What was the name of it? You just mentioned it.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [6:46] Yeah, Jason Dorsey and The Center for Generational.

[0:00] :

James:  [6:47] Yeah, it was, it was fantastic information, the report they put together, the data. And I’ve used it personally, you know, and spoke on the topic multiple times. So, you know, it’s very, man, it’s such an impactful study to understand those generations.

[7:02] But another partnership and you kind of hinted at it at the very end that we wanted to talk about. We’ve seen it, you know, come across here the last, maybe in the last couple weeks, some of the initial roll out of it.

[7:14] But that that Mike Rowe partnership that you talked about a little bit with mikeroweWORKS. You want to talk about that? I believe the campaign is “Six Degrees.” You want to…

[0:00] :

Rob:  [7:25] It, it’s a, [laughs] this started three, four years ago. Mike, we, we, I met Mike at an event for SkillsUSA. He’s a big supporter of skills. And invited him to speak at our conference or convention in Dana Point, California, three years ago.

[7:42] And so before he came to speak, I got a call from his office saying he’d like to meet with you and kind of visit and see what he’s going to talk about the next morning.

[7:52] Well, he showed up at my suite at 5:30 and then left about midnight, several bottles of bourbon later, dinner. And his business partner, Mary Sullivan, my wife, Sherry, we had a good conversation and talked about a lot of things.

[8:07] Which this kind of, the seed, at least from my perspective, started there. If you ask Mike where, where this came from, he’ll tell you that he, he there’s a, well, let me kind of bounce around.

[8:18] But Six Degrees, you’ve mentioned, is the show that has come out of this. We, we, as I said, we met three years ago and it kind of grew.

[8:28] But the show is now called Six Degrees. It’s on discovery+, which is their streaming service. And a little secret to all you out there that don’t want to pay the fee, in the second quarter, it’s going to be on main Discovery.

[8:40] But it was originally going to be on, on his Facebook channel. So he developed the show without a, without a home, to start with.

[8:48] And so to back the story up just a bit, after that night of drinking and his speaking the next day. I sent him a proposal and said, Mike, can you, I’d love for you to do a show on energy. Just think of it as dirty jobs in the energy industry.

[9:04] And, and my mission was enter, the energy industry awareness. I think there’s so much ignorance in the American public about what, where your energy comes from and the importance of it and all the byproducts etc., etc.

[9:19] So Mike thought it was a great idea. He gave me a call and we chatted some more and and talked about it. And so two things were happy at the same time.

[9:29] My push was on the energy side. Mike had had a childhood fascination with a show called “Connections” with Dr. James Burke that, back in the ’70s, I actually loved the show myself.

[9:40] And we talked about that. It’s about connections about going from you know, something happened in the 1300s and ends up being something that happened today, or how it got to those points. You can connect any dots, but that’s what it is.

[9:52] So Mike took that concept and the energy concept and kind of put them together. And came up with a show called Six Degrees.

[10:01] And so it, it follows into, you know, how a sheep can do your taxes, how the San Francisco earthquake led to the discovery of science, the science of the Hubble Telescope, stuff like that.

[10:15] So there’s a lot of connections through this. There’s a thread that goes through all the episodes, and that is energy. And energy’s always in the room.

[10:24] So we as DCA and the American Petroleum Institute along with Michael’s corporation and Artera Services, another contractor group, funded it.

[10:34] And so we were the sponsors and put the money into it. Mike through his own money into it. It started out as six 30‑minute episodes and is now six one‑hour episodes, again, running on discovery+.

[10:48] And it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great show. It’s a history of, where people don’t know they love history. And you just kind of follow along in Mike’s fun way of doing things.

[11:02] But within there, there are some character pieces, and his friend Chuck Klausmeyer does these character pieces that are about energy.

[11:11] So he’ll be standing in front of an electric car and tell you that the power for that electric car doesn’t come from the battery in the car, from the plug that’s plugged into the wall, which is powered by some gas‑powered power plant somewhere out in the distance.

[11:24] So all those, it pulls those connections of how energy is, is, you can’t live without it. You may think you’re an environmentalist but maybe, and I’m, I’m an environmentalist. I believe in the environment.

[11:36] And the great thing about the DCA contractors is they, they are so safety and environmental concerns are top of mind as they’re, as they’re doing their work.

[11:48] And, you know, Keystone, all the news about Keystone. There’s already a Keystone Pipeline. The new pipeline is high‑tech, environmentally, extremely environmentally friendly. But now we’re going to ship it all on trains and, you know, and keep certain businesses well funded.

[12:05] But anyway, I could go on and on about that one, but I’ll leave that my contractor for us who are not real happy about the situation right now.

[12:14] But you know, it it goes in cycles. Things come and go. The last four years was good for the industry. The next quarter will be tough, but we’ll get through it.

[12:22] But, again, back to Mike. It was the initial goal, for me, was energy industry awareness. And hopefully through the show and through Mike’s promotion of it there is a little bit of awareness.

[12:35] And we filmed an ad and the four companies all filmed ads. And so we’ve used, I think I’ve, you’ve seen the ad and we posted it on our website. So it’s…

[0:00] :

James:  [12:46] We’ll link that up for you all, too, Rob, so everybody can, can check that out.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [12:50] That’d be great.

[0:00] :

James:  [12:50] And funny enough, just by happenstance, my wife talked me into discovery+ because she wanted to watch Chip and Joanna Gaines on it.

[0:00] : [

Rob:  [12:58] laughs]

[0:00] :

James:  [12:59] And but I didn’t tell her that really it was a win‑win. So…

[0:00] : [

Rob:  [13:03] laughs]

[0:00] :

James:  [13:04] I’ll check out the show, too. That’s really why we got it.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [13:07] There you go.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [13:08] The, I am really excited, though, when you talk about education and people understanding. And I think that’s a huge need not just in the energy industry but really everything in life.

[13:20] We can always learn more. I mean, every day if I don’t learn something new I’m like, why didn’t I learn something today? There’s something out there I can use.

[13:26] I’m really excited for what you’re doing and to help our country, our people just to understand a little bit more, just to have a, just become consciously competent.

[13:37] Because so many times we’re unconsciously incompetent. We don’t know what we don’t know and we assume we do.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [13:42] Exactly.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [13:44] That’s exciting to know.

[13:46] Let’s take a look at 2021 and maybe 2022. Give us some initiatives that the DCA is going to be going through. Anything we should keep our eyes open for, anything that we as the industry can take advantage of.

[13:59] Or even if we’re not in the industry some things that we can take advantage of and, again, to learn a little bit more.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [14:04] Well, the, obviously, there’s the workforce is ongoing. And that, that effort is going to keep going and keep growing. And then we have the, we’ve got a couple of initiatives, what DCA’s doing on job roles, videos.

[14:18] We’ve definitely got a company that we’re working with on doing job role videos of what is a laborer? What is an operator? What is whatever, the whole series, though.

[14:28] Some people, you know, young people coming in, coming out of school or not in college, or as they coming out unskilled, don’t know what the industry’s about.

[14:37] So that’s, that’s one of my missions is to get people to understand what the energy industry is and how it’s done.

[14:44] It’s not just the Atmos, you know, Energy or the Chesapeake or whatever big company it is. It is the contractors that are putting this pipe in the ground. So that’s, that’s always going to be a huge initiative on our part.

[14:56] The other is, and, and something that you guys, your president, Jeff Isbell is involved, very much involved with, is our OQIP, the operator qualification integrity process. That started in 2016, came out of an A, one of those AJ meetings that we had.

[15:14] I kept hearing operators say there will never be portability contractors. There will never be portability. I said let’s get us all in a room and figure this out. So it grew from a portability initiative into a integrity process.

[15:27] And to come up with some standardization and some processes that different companies can use across the board to make it easier, one, on the workforce front.

[15:37] Because if somebody is qualified in one state and they can work in another state or two for another utility without having to get retrained, all the better. You don’t have to go hire somebody new or spend about a bunch of money retraining them on stuff they already know.

[15:51] So that, that initiative, and as I said, Jeff’s actively involved with that. And we greatly appreciate his, his participation and support and y’alls support on that.

[16:01] And I know you did one of those, one of these shows with Brad Heck and Jeff several months ago.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [16:07] Yeah, we did.

[0:00] :

James:  [16:08] And Rob, it’s funny you say that because I, you know, I was a part of building some of those presentations.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [16:14] Absolutely.

[0:00] :

James:  [16:14] By proxy, through Jeff. So I got to see the program, you know, kind of grow from that napkin, you know, kind of idea that Jeff says really started in 2011 and ’12, you know, in those, you know, off‑the‑cuff conversations.

[16:31] But to see the program grow and then now to where it’s at personally, it’s, you know, I’ve got to see the full life. When I came into the industry, it was that idea. You know, and to see it, you know, transform and form into what it is today is a really cool initiative.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [16:48] Yeah, it’s great. And some of your artwork is on our website. So there’s a oqip.org, which is the, the website that has a lot of information out there about the process. But it’s also linked on our website, the DCA website.

[17:03] So yeah, you know, thank you for your participation in that as well. And then another, you know, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on.

[17:10] But, you know, the whole API 1173, the, the pipeline safety management system. We’ve kind of developed a, I’ll give a shout‑out to one of my staff for our Washington DC guy, Eben Wyman.

[17:23] He has really taking the forefront on creating a contractor version of the pipeline safety management.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [17:30] Really?

[0:00] :

Rob:  [17:31] And it’s a, it’s a great document. He’s worked a lot with our contractors, with APCA contractors, some, some other contractor.

[17:42] But anyway, he put together a pipeline safety management template for the contractors for the, not just the utilities, which is what the main API version was designed for, but for the contractors that are working with utilities so they can be in sync.

[17:56] So those are just, you know, three of the main initiatives. The other initiative is trying to get back to, back to normality.

[18:03] Oh, you know, we, [laughs] we have canceled and rescheduled and juggled so many meetings that it’s just that’s that’s taking up so much time just getting that rescheduled.

[18:16] We’ve got our annual convention, which was scheduled to be in Hawaii in March, and then Scottsdale in March. And now it’s in Orlando in July. I’m just hoping people can come. So, and get back to meetings.

[18:28] We’re doing our safety conference here in Dallas in April. That’s mainly the contractor, the contractors can travel.

[18:34] They’re not as, as hard to get out as the, some of the big corporations, like Caterpillar and Deere and some of these other guys that are, that are held up by some of the corporate standards that the, you know, restrictions they’ve got right now on travel.

[0:00] :

James:  [18:51] For sure. Rob, we finish the show the same way every week. So if you’ve watched, you probably already know what this question is. But we always like to talk to people.

[19:03] As I’m sure you’ve experienced, our industry is amazing. You know, it’s funny that in one of the most family‑oriented, you know, close‑knit groups of an industry, we’re having so much of a hard time bringing people into it.

[19:18] You know, but once they get in, they realize what it is.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [19:21] Yeah.

[0:00] :

James:  [19:21] So I’d like, we’d like to ask people this question. Rob, do you love what you do?

[0:00] : [

Rob:  [19:26] laughs] OK. The reason, and I laugh, because it’s funny. I started at DCA in July of 2009. And my, the first fall meeting is when they reviewed the executive, the chief executive’s job.

[19:44] And I had just taken over for the guy who’d been here 20 years. And Dennis Kennedy, my predecessor, had said, you know, Rob, you just got to love the job.

[19:51] You gotta love that it is a great organization, real family, but you got to love it. OK, well, fine. Yeah, I understand that. I want to love my job.

[20:00] So I [laughs] went to the fall board meeting and the executive committee’s meeting with me and talking to me about what happened in the last two months. You know, I’d been there a little less than two months.

[20:11] And, and one of the guys goes, well, Rob, do you love your job? I said, guys, we just started dating. You know, give me a little bit of time.

[[20:20] laughter]

[0:00] :

Rob:  [20:22] But, yeah, I mean, yeah, do I love this job? More than any other job I’ve had, and I’ve had some, some fun jobs.

[20:29] I did advance to the White House. I’ve worked for Young Presidents’ Organization for 15 years, traveling around the world and working with chief executives of kings and queens and etc.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [20:39] Wow. Wow.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [20:39] But this has, this has been the best opportunity I’ve ever had. Because the people, you mentioned family, the energy industry tends to be this way. And I’m sure other ones are, too.

[20:51] But I’ve worked in telecom, and not so much, but energy, especially the DCA contractors are and associates is just like one big family. And I think that boils back from the fact that they are family businesses. A lot of them that started as family businesses.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [21:09] Yeah.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [21:09] But you can’t help but but love them and love what you do. And I love the fact that they’ve allowed me to do things that I never would have imagined I could do. And help grow the organization and make it is, into what it is today.

[21:25] And it’s been a, it’s been a great ride. And I hope it continues for a lot, many, or, more years to go. I’m not going anywhere.

[[21:32] laughter]

[0:00] :

James:  [21:34] Same. They’re going to have to drag me out screaming, I think.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [21:37] Exactly.

[0:00] :

James:  [21:37] I can’t…

[0:00] :

Jim:  [21:38] Yeah, all of us.

[21:40] Well, Rob, I have to tell you. The things that you’re doing with the DCA, that the DCA is doing for our industry is tremendous. We thank you. Absolutely. We can’t thank you enough for being on today.

[21:52] We hope that our audience, our viewers, and our listeners will go to the DCA site, learn something, click on some things, explore, ask questions. Do all those things.

[22:04] And again, we can’t, we can’t thank you enough for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure of ours. And let’s do, let’s do it again at some point in the future. We’ll come back around.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [22:15] Would love to. No, thank you for, thank you for the opportunity and to be one of your first with the new logo and the new technology and upgrading the, you know. You’re upgrading your guests even. I mean, what the heck? [laughs]

[0:00] :

James:  [22:27] It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, Rob. But for us, somebody who went into every week thinking we’d probably get canceled, when we get a new mic, it feels like we have job security.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [22:37] There you go. [laughs]

[0:00] :

Jim:  [22:38] A new a mug, come on.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [22:40] I know. [laughs]

[0:00] :

Jim:  [22:42] It’s great. Well, audience…

[0:00] :

Rob:  [22:43] Well, thank you for…

[0:00] :

Jim:  [22:44] Oh, go ahead, Rob.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [22:46] No, I just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity to be on and to talk a little bit about DCA. And, and, and, you know, we, there’s so much of discussion about the organization internal. Sure, everybody talks about it internally but not so much out, externally.

[23:01] So this is a great opportunity. I thank you. And I know you’ve got what, an audience of what, 5, 8, 10 million? What is now?

[0:00] :

James:  [23:08] Something like that.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [23:08] Something like that, or…

[0:00] :

Rob:  [23:09] Something like that. I knew it was…

[0:00] :

Jim:  [23:14] I think it was four.

[0:00] :

James:  [23:16] Ish, yeah.

[0:00] : [

Rob:  [23:14] laughs] Well, I thank you.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [23:14] Oh, it’s our pleasure. Again, please, folks, if you’re interested, please go to the DCA website, learn something click on it, explore. You know, I’m sure if you even hunted them down, Rob would answer those questions personally.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [23:27] Well, let me, so dcaweb.org…

[0:00] :

Jim:  [23:30] OK.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [23:31] Is the name, sorry, and then we’ve got the oqip.org is on there. And the workforce is dcaletsgettowork.come. But it’s also linked on the Web. So they’re all in, on the DCA website. So you’ll, you’ll find it all there.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [23:43] Great. Fantastic. So…

[0:00] :

Rob:  [23:46] Thank you.

[0:00] :

Jim:  [23:46] Do yourself a pleasure, do that. On behalf of James and I, we appreciate you. We will see you next week on Coffee with Jim & James.

[23:54] Until then, everybody, always please stay safe. Take care.

[0:00] :

Rob:  [23:59] Take care.

[0:00] :

James:  [24:00] So long, everybody. Thanks, Rob.

[[24:01] background music]

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