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CWJJ Episode 62: Ryan White & Jay Stephens

CWJJ Episode 62: Ryan White & Jay Stephens

Thursday, June 17- Stay Tuned for this week’s episode. Ryan talks about the origin of 811 Pro and USA North 811, and John “Jay” Stephens from Damage Prevention Academy joins the show again. This duo talks about training, damage prevention, and Tim Kennedy.

Quick Links:

Ryan White on Linkedin

Jay Stephens on Linkedin

Episode Transcript

Jim Schauer:  [0:11] Good morning, everyone. Welcome to this episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.” James, I had the opportunity. I did to start off with one of my normal wacky, because I would’ve brought in some of my old Northern. Don’t you know their accents from somebody that might be from Canada?

Jim:  [0:41] Then, I was thinking about, “Hey dude, get a little California stuff going.” Honestly, James, and I think I’ve said this before, my wacky interest start about 30 seconds to 3 minutes before we actually start recording.

[0:54] Something just hits my head, and as I’m sitting here looking at the screen, to be very real and open and honest, talk about what we do the best of connecting the dots and getting messages out and introducing people together.

[1:09] When I look at the screen, I just wanted to relish in that for the intro. It’s a absolute joy to be sitting here this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee with Ryan and Jay, to be quite frank and, again, connect the dots between the four of us and the industry.

James Cross:  [1:26] Jim, this all started, connecting the dots, going back a few years ago, if you remember. I think we may have mentioned this when we had Jay on the first time.

[1:36] Jay and I were in Galveston and ended up at a table at the bar one night. We’re like, “Wow. We need to talk after this.” We stuck to it. It took us a little bit because when we got back, we entered a pandemic. We finally got him on the show and we talked about that and kept a great conversation going.

[1:58] Then we run into Ryan White on LinkedIn, of all the places. Ryan and Jay have a far greater connection than we ever had.

[2:09] When we reached out to Ryan and start talking to him and figuring all the pieces out, it was funny to see how we are all connected. Obviously, we’re all rallied around the fact of keeping the world safe and damage prevention. That’s where it starts.

[2:28] Welcome to the show, guys. Jay, it’s second time back, Ryan, first timer. How are you?

Ryan White:  [2:34] Great, thanks for having us. I reached out on LinkedIn, we started chitchatting there. I’ve seen some of your guys stuff on there and I thought, “Hey, this will be a fun conversation.” Always like to talk about 811 Pro and always like to partner up with Jay on anything. I’m excited.

James:  [2:49] Awesome.

Jay:  [2:51] I appreciate that, Ryan. Thanks for having me on, gents. Love it. Second time’s a charm.

James:  [2:55] Yeah.

Jim:  [2:56] I love his accent. I used to have one when I was in…I used to have one of those.

Jim:  [3:02] Maybe I’m getting a little homesick.

James:  [3:04] Jimmy, I think the most amazing part today is the fact that Ryan watched our show before and still reached out, right?

Jim:  [3:12] Yeah.

James:  [3:13] Sign me up. That’s a fan right there. You may be our top fan.

Jim:  [3:17] He could have blocked us.

James:  [3:20] You might get a prize. [laughs]

Jim:  [3:21] You now I’m saying? He could have blocked us. Ryan, it is your first time on the show. Let’s dig in with you. Since you’re the newbie to the show, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your story, your history? Tell us about 811 Pro. Bring us up to speed if you don’t mind, sir. The stage and screen is all yours.

Ryan:  [3:38] Appreciate it. Actually, this is my 20th year in 811…

James:  [3:43] Wow.

Ryan:  [3:43] as crazy as that sounds to say. 2001 is when I started at USA North 811 as a call taker on the phones. Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked my way up. I’ve been involved in operations, in marketing and education, and now on an executive level as managing director, overseeing operations, marketing, and member services.

[4:08] It’s been a long road with me in 811 Pro, or on 811 that led me to 811 Pro, I should say. I still work really closely with our marketing, education department with calling me their marketing and education manager, so probably have more eyes on marketing than most operations managers or managing directors.

[4:31] I find a lot of my true love is in that area and being creative. Looking at always trying to find ways to improve here at USA North, and do things better, and find better ways to reach out to people.

[4:45] 811 Pro was this idea that came about last year during the pandemic. Everybody started switching to working from home. Everybody started switching to online resources, right? We had previously already done that. We were a little bit ahead of the curve both operationally.

[5:04] We’ve sent people home before the pandemic even hit. We’re ready to go when that thing happened. Also, we had worked with Jay and Damage Prevention Academy and already had online education up and running.

[5:15] 811 Pro was an opportunity for us to refine our process, refine what was already out there, learn from some of the things we had gone through with our previous course, and see some of the feedback, and look for opportunities to do things a little bit different this time around. That’s a real high‑level overview.

[5:37] The goal with 811 Pro is to be a really engaging training course that makes people want to take it instead of feel like they have to take it.

James:  [5:49] That’s important.

Jim:  [5:50] Yeah, absolutely.

James:  [5:51] Jay…I just jumped in on you Jimmy. I’m sorry.

Jim:  [5:55] No, we’re good, brother. [laughs]

James:  [5:57] Jay, we’ve heard your story a little bit. Do you mind just giving us a flyover, kind of your origin story and then how you fit into this puzzle at 811 Pro?

Jay:  [6:07] Yeah, I could go on forever. Ultimately, I consider myself a damage prevention expert. It, over the years, gone from the classroom where I was training pipeliners and oil and gas guys here in Alberta in the classroom.

[6:24] It is certification‑style program and brought that forth many years ago in the taxes first, of course, with Damage Prevention online. Then the rest is history. With USA, normally about a long, long relationship spanning a number of years. It’s one of our premier partnerships that we value.

[6:43] The way they approach all of their education is very unique. It’s very forward‑thinking. This 811 Pro is just, I would say, a next‑level approach to engaging that learner. That’s all we’re trying to do. As you said early on, it’s like we just want to make the world a safer place. This 811 Pro is a conduit to that.

James:  [7:10] Awesome. Well, y’all are doing it, 20 years. I just can’t really run. You started when you were three or what, Ryan?

Ryan:  [7:21] No, not quite.

James:  [7:22] Not quite. 14, no?

Jim:  [7:27] I just have to make a comment that the thing that…

Jim:  [7:30] Well, it is scary. The comments about making it fun, I’ll say that, easy, wanting to take it as opposed to feeling to take it. When you pull somebody into a process versus pushing them, it’s much different. I really like that aspect, that feel, everything that you all are doing. It’s refreshing.

[7:52] People, when they want to learn and want to get more, that’s exciting to me. I just want to, again, give you all a little bit of kudos for that because that’s a great way of doing it.

James:  [8:01] We live in that education world, so we understand that a lot, that it’s all in how you approach it. Let me say one of the things that caught my eye, the whole reason I think we’re here and we started talking on 811 Pro was…I don’t know if it was an Adder video. I can’t remember what I saw. Good job, marketer.

James:  [8:24] I’m kidding. I’m a marketer too. Tim Kennedy, you mentioned him earlier in the preshow. He’s the face, the…You don’t say mascot, do you? You can’t say that one, [inaudible]? The face, the voice, the image that stands behind it. Tell us a story. How do you even end up reaching out to Tim Kennedy and also let people know? Maybe they don’t even know who he is. If you don’t know mind, Ryan.

Ryan:  [8:58] For sure. That is probably one of the more crazy Hail Marys that somehow worked out in our favor that we’ve ever had. We’ve done some crazy things here at USA North. Obviously, in marketing education, that worked out really well.

[9:14] The Tim Kennedy thing, the genesis of it was with a lot of these education programs, most of the time and not all the time. I’m not trying to knock other people’s education out there, but a lot of times you’ll see a white‑collar individual in front of the screen with a safety vest on that was just out of the package with a hard hat that’s brand new.

[9:31] You’re talking to these field crews. They’re like, “What is this guy going to tell me? This is a corporate guy who doesn’t know what it’s like to be in the trench with me.” I happen to be reading “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins at the time. He’s a very no‑nonsense kind of guy.

[9:48] I called my marketing education manager, Collin. I said, “This is what we need with 811. We need somebody that’s outside the industry that can be respected and is a no‑nonsense guy to sell the message.”

[10:02] Tim is somebody that I had followed for a while. For those who don’t know, Special Forces sniper, multiple tours overseas, TV personality. He’s been on shows on the History Channel, had his own show on the Discovery Channel, UFC fighter, one time was top five ranked UFC fighter in the world.

[10:27] Then above all of that, besides a great person and all those things, born and raised in California. It’s like, “Well, this is kind of a weird…All of these things are lining up for us.” At that point, it was the Hail Mary. I got his email from his website, just a “Contact us,” threw the Hail Mary out there one a week and had nothing and then, all of a sudden, got a call back from his agent.

[10:52] The thing that we thought that makes it even crazier is we went back to his website after we talked to his agent for some purpose. That page where we had gotten his information of that had been removed. They got rid of it.

[11:06] [laughter]

Ryan:  [11:09] It’s like we snuck in the door somehow. He liked our message. He was familiar with 811. He’s all about doing things to help people.

[11:20] At the end of the day, he’s like, “Hey, if this will make California safer and Nevada and our territory as well, but being a guy from California, if this will make California safer, I’m all in. Let’s do it.” That’s short version of the story of how Tim Kennedy came to work with us.

James:  [11:38] That’s a cool…

Jim:  [11:39] Yeah, that’s a cool story. It goes to show that safety knows no boundaries or business doors, so to speak. It crossed lines. It’s wonderful to see people embrace that and know that it’s the right thing to do for us, people, communities and such like that.

James:  [12:01] It never hurts to ask. What’s the worst thing Tim could have told you, right?

Ryan:  [12:07] Right. That was our thing. Exactly like, “Hey, let’s try this Hail Mary. If it doesn’t work, we’ll figure something out.” The fact that it landed, it was pretty crazy.

Jim:  [12:17] Well, he didn’t block you, because you send a message every week. Obviously, like on week five, email, sender not found. “Huh? What happened there?”

Jay:  [12:28] Email was gone.

[12:29] [laughter]

Jim:  [12:29] Jay, let me poke a little fun, brother, at you.

James:  [12:34] He’s just been sitting over there by himself, just waiting to talk.

James:  [12:38] and trying to get the 811 Pro logo.

Jim:  [12:43] He’s like the spokesperson right now. He’s just sitting there looking pretty. We could talk a little Minnesotan there, don’t you know and had a lutefisk and then…

Jay:  [12:50] You get her done. Get her done.

Jim:  [12:53] Hot sauce in Minnesota is ketchup, OK? Seriously. Anyways, that’s let’s bring this around. You’re a friend of ours. You’ve been on the show before. It’s good to have you back.

[13:07] Let’s get a little bit deeper into the connecting the dots here, your involvement with the 811 Pro as well as the DPA and what’s going on. Just enlighten us a little bit more, bring us into some of the specifics and some of the things we can look forward to seeing.

Jay:  [13:24] Well, with 811 Pro, like as I said, it’s a next‑generation thought. We had chatted with…

[13:31] Ryan, Correct me if I’m wrong. We had spoken with you and call back and forth over the course of a year about using elements of virtual reality in some way, shape, or form to better educate the user.

[13:45] Kind of do a flashback to our last episode that we did together was talking about putting somebody in the scenario. Putting somebody in the scene, in that environment is critical because that transplants the user there.

[14:02] The thought process and approach to that environment is completely different than…As Ryan said, it’s not knocking anybody’s training because our training has it too. All training that has built before has it. It’s just the way it was. It’s their images or stock images. There’s figures that, of course, have never picked up a shovel or even touched a speck of dirt.

[14:25] Not to say that that’s bad, but when you’re trying to drive the message home to these users, that was important. When they came up with 811 Pro, and the concept of it, and the branding, and everything behind it was phenomenal, of course, we just jumped in full tilt and try to do absolutely everything we could to make this program the way it is with new technology.

[14:49] As you guys know, it’s very difficult. Everything happened. This first version is a step in the direction of the future, which is going to make the 360 VR‑type programs much better no matter the style or type of training you’re doing.

[15:09] That’s what we’re focused on right now, is this type of change in the game. Their course is unique because essentially everything is 360 VR. Typically, you can have blended‑up learning where you have elements of it. It’s a really cool program.

[15:26] I rep this brand as a proud member of the team because I love it. I think we did a phenomenal job with it and looking forward to what’s next coming down the horizon. I guess that’s a conversation for another time. [laughs]

Jim:  [15:41] Wait. He just…

James:  [15:43] He just made himself back on again, didn’t he?

Jim:  [15:45] You might be in the first trifecta with us.

Jay:  [15:49] Oh, hey, love it. Anytime, guys. You guys just want to have me on stand in the back room drinking Cabo?

Ryan:  [15:56] James, Jim, and Jay kind of works as a title for a show.

James:  [15:59] That’s a lot. It’s aggressive.

Jay:  [16:01] Tripe J.

Ryan:  [16:02] Triple J.

James:  [16:03] We could just tag out every once in a while. That’s what I’ve been telling Jimmy. We need to get comfortable with having guest hosts, right? Come on. I think that’d be fun. Then I got the day off.

Jim:  [16:14] No, no. I have the day off.

James:  [16:16] We’ll work that out.

Jay:  [16:17] [laughter] Exactly.

Jim:  [16:20] One thing I want to just touch on real briefly that you talked about. I was at a I‑can’t‑remember conference. I was with the senior vice president of a major utility that has over 10,000 employees. We were talking about just this environment. The words that he used were “freedom to fail.”

[16:38] He goes, “I would much rather have somebody be in a situation where they’re learning or their continued education or whatever with the idea that I would rather have them fail in that environment, learn from it as opposed to being outside there and, forbid, fail in a way.” That really resonated. That was over two years ago. It was strong words. It stuck with me.

James:  [17:09] Normally, we end the show with a question, but Jay has already did the question. That’s not fair.

Jim:  [17:14] What about Ryan?

James:  [17:15] Oh, yeah. Ryan?

Ryan:  [17:18] Yes?

James:  [17:19] We ask everyone this one question at least once. If you’re on twice, we don’t ask you the second time. Do you love what you do?

Ryan:  [17:28] I do.

James:  [17:30] Why?

Ryan:  [17:33] I have the pleasure of working for a great employer for some great…My executive director, James Wingate, empowers us to do some of this stuff. In the 811 community, it’s a really tight‑knit community. You work with other other staff members from different states. You hear the good and the bad.

[17:53] A lot of the times, though, it seems like some staff members, especially on the marketing, a lot of them have really good ideas and things to push the ball forward or things that are different.

[18:05] It’s hard to sometimes get executives or boards on board with that, and so it’s amazing to work for a place where your boss trusts you, believes in you.

[18:17] When you come to him with an idea of like, “Hey, we’re going to do this new thing of training. We’re going to throw everything out the window. I know that you came from another center where they do training really well. Let’s forget all that. We’re going to do something totally different.”

“[18:29] OK, good. Let’s do it,” no hesitation, bought in from day one, and that’s what he does with us.

[18:38] We have a great staff here with Colin and Brian and our Market and Educational Department and Matt.

[18:43] Across the‑board, we have a team that is all in, that wants to move forward, and then, like I said, our leader, James, empowering us and allowing us to do some of this stuff. That’s why I love it.

Jim:  [18:58] James, we almost had a tie for the shortest answer, do you love what you do?

Jim:  [19:05] Ryan did say I do. I think Brian Dresel holds the record because he said yes.

James:  [19:12] No, he said absolutely.

Jim:  [19:14] Absolutely.

James:  [19:15] That was it.

Jim:  [19:15] There you go.

James:  [19:16] I was like, “No, no, no.” [laughs] That’s awesome.

Ryan:  [19:20] Thanks for the follow up. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go or…

James:  [19:23] That was a chaser. Can’t have dead air like that.

Jim:  [19:27] Nobody’s better than James at following up. Then there’s Stephen Mayfield. Remember him from the City of Tallahassee? We asked that question and…

James:  [19:33] Six hours later, [laughs] in a good way.

James:  [19:37] We love Stephen. His answers, his tangents are the best part.

James:  [19:41] That was right when we were first starting. Man, a tangent meant you got 15 minutes of content. We were excited when somebody got passionate about something.

James:  [19:54] That’s funny.

Jay:  [19:55] That’s great.

James:  [19:55] Guys, it’s obvious that both of y’all love what you do.

Jim:  [19:59] Absolutely.

James:  [19:59] Man, the positive impact that you’re making all over the world. Damage prevention is so important, and we thank y’all for that.

[20:08] Do us one favor, though, if you don’t mind. Ryan, will you let everybody know where they can go, how to get connected? Give them your spiel, and then we’ll get out of your way.

Ryan:  [20:21] The biggest thing is Go to The training is all free. We’ve worked with Jay and the center and some centers charge for their training. Ours is free. We wanted to remove that barrier for the learner so you have no excuse.

[20:35] It’s about an hour to do the 811Pro professional excavator training. In addition to that, you go There’s other resources on there. There’s a thing that we call Stories from the Field where we go out with a person to the field with them as far as a locator or a contractor or a regulator.

[20:54] We’re still filming those, but those are really cool. Matt Dot our video guy who works on stuff with us does an amazing job. I would say best videos I’ve seen in the industry. He does a great job so go check those out.

[21:08] We got more of those coming out every month or so. We just filmed another one so you should start seeing more of those. is where you guys want to go. Check it out and we’re open to feedback. You can get me on LinkedIn or multiple other ways. We’re open to feedback. We’re looking for ways to make it better.

Jim:  [21:29] Is that walk in the talk or what? It is free.

Ryan:  [21:32] Absolutely.

Jim:  [21:33] Use it. Do it. Don’t use…

James:  [21:35] What a marketer. That’s a marketer. Free 99.

Jim:  [21:39] Who? Me?

James:  [21:40] No, Ryan.

Ryan:  [21:43] I was going to say.

James:  [21:44] The marketing guy he’s all over it. It’s awesome.

Jim:  [21:48] Ryan and Jay, thank you so much guys. This has been absolute our pleasure. It’s been fun. It’s been great connecting the dots, bringing some great things to the industry. As Ryan said, go check them out. Also, on Jay’s side, Damage Prevention Academy, go check them out too.

[22:07] You won’t be disappointed. Connect with these gentlemen up if you’re on the LinkedIn platform. If you’re in podcast, you can find them. Just Google search him, you’ll find him. Anyways, gentleman again, thank you so much for joining us today.

[22:19] To all our audience, thank you for tuning in. We hope you gained something today. We hope you go check out 811 Pro. The goal is to always stay safe. Keep that as the first and foremost and with that, we will see you next week on Coffee with Jim & James. Thanks guys. Really appreciate it.

James:  [22:39] Thank you all.

Ryan:  [22:39] Thank you guys. Appreciate it.

Jay:  [22:41] Bye‑bye.

[22:42] [music] 

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