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Tom Vranas of Zentro Internet: A Follow-Up Interview to Discuss Workforce Development Success

Tom Vranas

Chief of Staff, Innovation, and People

Zentro Internet

In 2022, Dani Houchin, Executive Director of Origami Works, sat down with Tom Vranas to talk about how he was successfully engaging with nearly a dozen workforce development organizations in and around Chicago. In that interview, we learned that by establishing these strategic partnerships, Tom had unlocked access to a steady stream of highly vetted and qualified candidates, virtually eliminating the talent shortage challenges that many other employers were facing. 

We were curious about what Tom has been up to since then, and conducted a follow-up interview to hear about how Everywhere Wireless has grown and how their relationships with workforce providers have continued to evolve.

When we spoke in 2022, you were focused on company growth and expansion. How has Everywhere Wireless progressed since then? 

Everywhere Wireless is now called Zentro Internet. We currently provide Internet service in 12 states and have significantly expanded our workforce. Our support team is fully remote, but we continue to hire locally and support the communities in the new markets where we offer service. Whether that’s in Milwaukee, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Nashville, Miami, Orlando, or elsewhere, we seek to maintain a culture of camaraderie among our staff and provide a premium experience for our customers. 

We’ve continued to nurture relationships with our workforce development partners, and they continue to support us with our talent sourcing needs. 

How did you find the workforce organizations that you’ve partnered with? 

Many of the organizations that we found were through direct referrals, particularly as we were initially developing these partnerships. Without referrals, I think it would have been very difficult to navigate the landscape. The first organization that I had direct contact with was YJC. One of their board members knew about my passion for people and building community, and suggested that I learn about YJC’s mission. After starting a relationship with YJC, they referred us to National Able, another workforce provider that we’re now partnered with. 

Another method that we used to find organizations was to analyze our call center applicant pool and identify commonalities of successful candidates. We observed that many applicants and hires had completed programs or received certifications through organizations like IC Stars or Per Scholas, for example. At that point, I reached out to those organizations directly and began forming relationships with them to consistently source candidates.

With our construction team, we experienced even more challenges. It is especially difficult to find skilled and motivated people who want to build a construction career by simply posting a position on a job board. The variety of the experience, competency, and professionalism of the applicant pool was across the board. 

Engaging with the workforce development system can be daunting. Having an intrinsic motivation makes doing the work of understanding the processes and navigating the terrain much easier. 

We began to notice, however, that certain candidates had a uniqueness to them. They were more polished even though they tended to be younger and less experienced than others. We saw that they were Lincoln Tech graduates, and that prompted me to begin our relationship with them. Our partnership with Lincoln Tech has been unbelievably successful. For our construction roles in Chicago, they have become our exclusive sourcing partner. 

What were your goals when you initially started working with workforce development partners? 

We didn't begin this process with any specific goals in mind. For the first two years, I simply followed my curiosity and found great partners that helped nurture it. I knew that this was the right thing to do for our company and the city of Chicago. I have an inner passion to connect with people who may need extra support to be successful, and that’s what kept me driven to continue down this path. Engaging with the workforce development system can be daunting. Having an intrinsic motivation makes doing the work of understanding the processes and navigating the terrain much easier. 

Are there any providers that you no longer work with? If so, how did you decide to discontinue the partnership? 

Yes, there are some organizations that we no longer work with. This system works best when all parties are upholding their responsibilities. We’ve walked away from some organizations where the communication from their team was lacking, particularly during the hiring process. We’d ask follow-up questions about a candidate and not receive any feedback. 

We’ve also had situations where a workforce partner failed to provide support or assistance to someone that we hired from their program when we were trying to resolve an issue with that person. The population of candidates that we source from our workforce partners often experience challenges that a traditional hire may not. When those issues arise and impact the job, it is extremely helpful to have our partners involved to help resolve the issue. Some organizations did not provide any assistance in those instances, and it causes stress and frustration that make it not worth it to continue a partnership with them. 

Everyone that we've hired through workforce development programs has performed at or above the same levels that we expect for all employees. 

Per Scholas is an example of a partner that works very well with us. During the interview process, they request feedback on their candidates. When we hire an individual, they are hands on in supporting us and the new employee as they transition into their position. And after we hire someone, if an issue arises they offer support to rectify the situation. 

Why do you continue to hire employees through workforce development channels as compared to other means?

The fact is that it is easier to hire from our partner organizations. I know what training the employees will have, and there is additional support available from the organization to ensure that the employee is successful in their position. 

It is critically important for us as a business to ensure that we are always hiring the right person for the job. We would do a disservice to the individual and to our bottom line to hire someone who we don’t think would be successful in a role, so we don’t do that. Everyone that we've hired through workforce development programs has performed at or above the same levels that we expect for all employees. 

Do you have any new workforce development partnerships? 

Yes. We have recently been inducted into the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) program. We are committed to creating meaningful employment opportunities for military spouses. 

Military spouses tend to be highly motivated and educated, but face several barriers to gainful employment. They are often moving frequently and may be stationed in communities that have limited career prospects. Unemployment rates for military spouses are significantly higher than the general population. We are excited to support this community and will be hiring our first program participants soon. 

How would you characterize your experience with the workforce development system? 

We have spent four years developing a workforce development process that meets our needs and finding partners that work well with us. It has been very worthwhile and extremely successful. 

Initially it took some time to get started. We needed to understand the various organizations, how the overall hiring process would change from our previous method, the complexities of onboarding, and importantly, how to navigate hiring non-traditional employees, particularly those who may not have had career guidance in the past. Once we determined who the best partners are and what the right process is, it has become very easy to maintain. 



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