Tom Vranas of Everywhere Wireless: Planting Roots Across Chicagoland to Grow the Workforce
Chief of Staff, Innovation and People
When employers are looking to demonstrate their genuine appreciation for the diversity of their consumer base, it is important that they authentically reflect a range of backgrounds and experiences in their workforce. Truly inclusive employers move beyond standard diversity and inclusion efforts and proactively seek out candidates that reflect their service community.
Read on to learn more about how Chicago-based internet service provider, Everywhere Wireless has been cultivating relationships with several workforce development service providers to harvest talent from across Chicagoland.
Tell us about your current role and company.
I am the Chief of Staff, Innovation and People at Everywhere Wireless. We are a Chicago-based internet service provider that has been dedicated to making consumer’s Internet experience simple and enjoyable. Since our founding nearly 10 years ago, we’ve been deliberate about having our team here in Chicago and becoming a part of the communities that we serve. We are expanding quickly and in an exciting space right now, having received external investment and being named to the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Companies.
What makes Everywhere Wireless a special or unique place to work?
We are fast moving and dedicated to being a good steward of the community that we’re in. When we enter a new market, we will do the same thing: set our roots down and provide great service to that community with people in that community. If a company is claiming to be a good steward, it’s not just about writing a check every once to organizations and nonprofits.
For us, we actually want to be on the ground, positively impacting the people we’re serving.
What is the company hoping to achieve in the next few years?
The idea is to continue to grow, not solely because we want to make money, but because we are providing a better service and better customer experience than what we see in the market. Everywhere Wireless was founded because consumers were demanding a better Internet experience and we work tirelessly to deliver it to them.
We want to offer this incredible experience to more people in more cities. We want to continue hiring people locally and to support the community that we are in. We’ve seen this self fulfilling prophecy: the more the business succeeds, the more we are able to give back. The more we are able to give back, the more the business succeeds. I wish it were more complicated than that, but we’ve found if we make a promise, we fulfill it - and we work tirelessly to respect and treat our customers in a different way than any of our competitors, and the response has been astounding.
What significant challenges is the company facing at this moment?
As we continue to grow, we have to make sure that we’re providing the same incredible experience for every new customer that we service. Right now, when you call Everywhere Wireless, your call is answered, on average, in 18 seconds by a human being in Chicago. That is something we need to be able to keep up. We are making sure that every decision is in service to our customers and our employees. Likewise, as our employees stay in the company, we want to provide them the resources and opportunities to grow their careers here, and to love where they work.
What has Everywhere Wireless done to address workforce challenges?
We’ve partnered with nearly a dozen workforce development organizations in the Chicagoland area that work closely with job seekers; upskilling candidates, assisting returning veterans, training justice-impacted employees and more.
Because of these partnerships, I simply don’t have the workforce challenges that others do. When I have open roles, these organizations are the first place I go to fill them.
Our workforce partners serve as our front lines in the hiring process. They provide highly vetted and qualified candidates and we are able to offer an opportunity to someone who traditionally may not have had access to a job in the tech industry. It’s been a great experience and one that I wish more businesses would consider adopting.
Editor's Note: Workforce development agencies provide free and subsidized services to employers, helping them to find and retain the qualified workers that they need. These organizations also provide a range of retention services to job seekers such as pre-employment training, transportation and child care assistance, job coaching and more.
With what agencies or partners do you work to source entry level talent?
For our construction positions, we mainly use Lincoln College of Technology. Their team are incredible partners - both in training students to be ready for work, but also to help us attract, hire, and retain talent. For engineering positions, we use i.c. stars. And for general positions, we work with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Youth Job Center (YJC), Per Scholas, CompTIA, RiseKit, Safer Foundation, Upkey, My Computer Career and others.
Tell me about a partnership that has worked out well for you.
Our experience with Lincoln College of Technology has been amazing. Their Electrical and Electronic Systems Technology program has become my primary source for hiring for field positions. We’ve developed this relationship for nearly two years and recruit 100% from Lincoln.
Each year, we attend job fairs, host invitation only interviews with upcoming graduates, and conduct Q&A sessions with current students. We’ve started to get more people at Everywhere Wireless involved with the partnership by participating in these activities and it has been a positive experience for our staff and their students alike.
What are examples of entry level jobs at Everywhere Wireless that do not require a four-year degree? What qualifications do you require for these jobs?
Positions on the Network Construction and Help Desk Support teams do not require a four-year degree. Instead these positions require some level of experience.
For the Construction team, most of our new hires have been from Lincoln College, where we know that all students will have at least 6 months to a year of training.
For the Help Desk Support team, the position is a hybrid between customer support and technical experience. We've hired people who have had experience in customer support from previous retail or restaurant jobs, for example, and we’ve been able to train them up to be technically proficient. Alternatively, we’ve had people who have strong technical skills but haven’t had the opportunity to work in customer care.
As long as someone has a willingness to learn, we can train them in either area.
Do these positions have a career path associated with them - i.e., a way to be promoted to a position with greater responsibility and compensation?
Yes, we’ve done a lot of work to make sure that there is clarity in the steps that are needed for our team to advance their careers. There are two career paths that are very well defined. Everyone knows what they need to do to advance and what that means for their careers. We have also published and widely shared that the salary ranges for the next levels so that everyone knows what they are and how they can advance. We’ve had people who have gone from a frontline Call Center Representative to an Engineer in under two years.
We want people to reach the highest level of their potential as quickly as possible- both for themselves as well as for the company - it’s truly a win-win.
Do you face challenges in finding applicants for these jobs?
Knocking on wood…honestly, we haven’t. Because of the Chicagoland workforce partners, we haven’t seen the same fight for talent - both in terms of new hires and retaining our talent.
In some ways it feels almost too good to be true that there are organizations out there whose sole mission is to match people who are ready to work with employers who need candidates.
As an organization, we had to build comfort around utilizing an alternative hiring program, but even that effort didn’t take long. We have great partners who are invested in making sure that their candidates are successful. Every business should be working with these organizations. The only thing holding an employer back is their lack of understanding and fear that you’re taking a little bit of a risk, but that’s it.
Can you give me an example of an employee you hired from an agency or partner who really worked out well?
Recently, we had a multi-organizational success. The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership funded a 400-hour internship at Everywhere Wireless for two interns from YJC. Together we designed an internship where we provided work experience and training for two young adults; taking them through everything including how to get to work, how to dress for work, and many of the intricacies of working in a traditional setting. Before they completed the internship, both interns were doing so well that we knew we wanted to offer them a permanent position. It’s been incredible and they have been with the company nearly a year and are doing a terrific job.
Can you give me an example of an employee you hired from an agency or partner who did not work out?
We hired a candidate from one of our workforce partners and after six months, her behavior completely changed. She wasn’t showing up to work or staying for full shifts. At one point, she stopped responding to communication altogether. We engaged our partner and they helped us to understand the full extent of the situation. In the end, the agency served as a critical support for the employee and to us - bridging communication gaps when needed and helping us to resolve the matter amicably.
How, if at all, do you believe Chicagoland employers should contribute to addressing poverty and inequality in Chicago neighborhoods?
Employers are critical in these efforts - and it’s a shame more businesses don’t take this holistic view. I genuinely believe that we need to do better in terms of how we treat folks who don’t get a fair shot and communities that have struggled. Of course, some change will come from the government, but to see real change, it’s going to take a mixture of government officials, businesses and community organizations to say that they are fed up with the status quo. Multiple organizations that are united can affect and maintain positive change.
Tom Vranas serves as a trailblazer for inclusion and has brought his tenacity, persistence, and practicality to the hiring process at Everywhere Wireless. Continue on to read more about how Tom's passion for purposeful work, has fueled an extensive, sometimes exhausting, but always exciting, career.
Why is working with entry level talent from your partners important to you personally?
This gets me going - it’s exciting and fulfilling work! It’s the opportunity for me to use my resources to help someone with access to a career or learning a life-changing skill. At the end of the day, I know that I’m able to help people with an experience that they’ll keep for life.
I’m helping to open the door for every person I hire. My goal is to continuously open that door a little wider.
I can’t walk through that door with them, but I’ve found time and again, if we make it a little easier, most people will rise to the challenge! All most people need is a chance, some guidance, and some support.
What was your first job? What age were you when you started?
Pete’s Fast Food in Skokie. It was a local restaurant near my house that I could bike to. At 14, I started working there to make a glamorous splurge purchase that was the envy of absolutely nobody- an oboe.
What was your educational path like? Did it mirror that of your family?
I come from a big Greek family that always instilled two things in me: one, education is something that no one can take from you. And two, love what you’re doing and be great at what you're doing. My grandmother used to tell me that if you’re a janitor, be the best damn janitor that there is.
College was somewhat expected. When I was growing up , I saw my mom get her Master’s Degree in education while working, which left an incredible impression on me. I also got an incredible gift in watching my grandmother's education journey. She immigrated from Greece in her teenage years, but later in life she enrolled in a community college to formally learn English. Seeing those experiences set an expectation of continual growth and learning for me.
What was your first full-time job?
I started a technology company in college. While enrolled at Northwestern, I met a goofy tall Canadian guy. He was into computers. I was into business. We became really good friends and started up a company in the late 90s. We did it for two years and looking back, I can say that most of what I’ve learned stems back to what I experienced in those first two years. Call it the Master’s Degree in the School of Hard Knocks!
How did you get from that first job to where you are today?
I was always looking for interesting opportunities to work with really driven, motivated, inspiring people.
I’ve always wanted to do work that is not only for profit but also for purpose; doing things that would impact individuals or communities.
I went from the tech start up into investment banking and then started my own digital marketing agency. In that role, I ended up getting acquired by one of my clients, The Princeton Review. That was the first time I was able to run a profitable program and have a significant impact on a community. After a number of fulfilling years at Princeton Review, I ran three businesses that helped urban school systems and their communities. That was very rewarding, very fulfilling and very exhausting. After a decade and feeling I had left a positive impact on our nation’s schools, I needed a break. I started an Executive Coaching practice for CEOs and met the owner of Everywhere Wireless. His company was primed to take off, and he needed a right hand to help him with that growth.
What have been keys to your success?
I don’t give up easily. I don’t give up at all. I’m stubborn when I know I’m right, but always committed to taking in viewpoints to find the right path.
I’ve come to realize that money is important, but I don’t work for the money. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to have recognized that money can come and go, but work has a deeper meaning. I work because I love the people I’m working with, I love the businesses that I’m helping to grow, and I just don’t stop until I know that the job is done.