Tucked between FM 153 and the Colorado River, the Lazy Q Ranch is a picturesque setting with pine trees mixed with oaks, cedars, elevation changes, big skies, and the expected Fayette County flora and fauna. Unseen from the main road, however, lies a state-of-the-art training center with one singular goal.
“Safety,” says John Colson. “We want our employees to go home safe every single day. To do that, Quanta Services built this training center to serve our 39,000 employees.”
Colson is the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Quanta Services, which owns and developed the Lazy Q. A Missouri native, Colson originally merged four electrical services companies and ultimately took the company public in 1998. Today it is a Fortune 500 company with annual revenues of about $11 billion and 39,000 global employees. About 30 of those employees work for the Lazy Q.
“Since the company began, we have used electric utilities assets to train our employees,” Colson said. “While that worked, we never found a place that could offer across-the-board training facilities for electrical, pipeline, telecommunications. We had to piecemeal our training program. The board of directors came to me and asked me to build a state-of-the-art training center. We drew circles of interest – to be somewhat near our global Houston headquarters and airports. I began hunting.”
“People are at the heart of our company, and the most important thing to us is their safety every day, on every job site,” said Earl C. “Duke” Austin Jr., president and CEO of Quanta Services. “The Advanced Training Center at the Lazy Q Ranch exemplifies our commitment to ensuring the very best training available for our workforce and the industry as a whole.”
Colson has experience with land ownership in the Roundtopolis™. His Shepherd Mountain Ranch near Lake Somerville in Washington County was his retirement destination. He spends several days a week at the Lazy Q.
“I found this place about four or five months after I began looking,” he said. “It fit all of our needs, is near two major airports, with easy access from our headquarters. As a bonus, we’ve discovered this ranch has a wonderful heritage. It’s only been owned by two families since 1821.”
The Lazy Q covers about 2,200 acres in northwest Fayette County. As Colson related, William and Mary Rabb were the original land grant holders, dating to 1821. It passed through the Rabb family until the 1970s when two sisters – the Crofts – willed it to Roy Karisch upon their death. Karisch family descendants sold to Quanta in 2014. Several other smaller pieces of land were added to the initial purchase to create the current footprint. The training center opened for business in August, 2016.
“We have incrementally invested more than $100 million in our training initiatives, between the Lazy Q facility and the purchase and development of Northwest Linemen’s College,” Austin said. “We believe our industry-leading training and recruiting initiatives will ensure that we have the very best craft skilled labor and enhance our ability to collaborate with our customers on future workforce needs.”
The Lazy Q has living quarters for up to 200 employees at a time. The lodges are clad in Austin limestone with metal roofs, as are the cafeteria, workout facilities, conference center and an on-the-books museum.
“We built these buildings to be fire-resistant,” Colson said. “We also have developed several lakes across the property to provide water in the event of a wildfire. Again, safety of our people is our top priority.”
Under a partnership with the Winchester Volunteer Fire Department, the Lazy Q built a fire station to house their own water trucks and a firetruck belonging to Winchester Volunteer Fire Department. Plans are to add emergency medical services capabilities as well in support of the local training facility.
As the buildings were going up, Colson and his team also set out to improve the quality of the land itself. The training facilities occupy only about one-tenth of the total ranch footprint, with the remainder under an intensive wildlife habitat management program overseen by two full-time wildlife managers.
The Training Program
Quanta Services operates as a holding company – with nearly 50 subsidiaries providing services in the engineering, procurement and construction industries – primarily for power and pipeline companies. Quanta employees design and build electrical infrastructure and inline pipeline inspection products – as well as serving as a contractor to telecommunication companies such as AT&T and others.
To complete those projects, Quanta has a stringent safety program in effect. Thus, the company’s training infrastructure at the Lazy Q includes power lines of all types and heights, substations, pipelines of every diameter available, and even a simulated subdivision where employees learn how to run fiber optic cables from servers to individual homes.
“We train for real-world situations every day,” Colson said. “We don’t have full-time instructors. We bring in our own employees, who face different scenarios every single day, to train our employees. We put our employees in situations they may face in the field on any given day.
“This is the only training facility of this kind. Any where.”
In 2018, there were 17,688 days of training conducted. Translated, that means during the year about 1,000 people passed through the training campus – whether for a two-day training or one that lasts up to 15 weeks. Employees come from the U.S., Canada, Central America, even New Zealand.
“We have rigorous training,” Colson said. “These are 10-hour days, with homework in the evenings. They might have time to fish for 30 minutes – or do some hiking down to the river, but this is not a vacation by any means.”
Employees enjoy three meals/day, every day they are onsite.
The newest feature at the ranch is a helipad, completed last year. Quanta owns a fleet of helicopters used to install and repair power systems.
“Our remote location allows us to use helicopters in our training, without bothering neighbors,” Colson said. “We train our employees to work from helicopters – again simulating real-world conditions.”
Not only is Quanta Services focused on its current team, but it also is looking forward.
Recruitment of qualified workers for the company has been a challenge from the beginning.
“You don’t often hear a child say, ‘I want to be a lineman,’” he said. “Unless their father or uncle or someone they knew was a lineman. Being a lineman is a very lucrative profession and Quanta is committed to helping train a new generation of workers.”
In 2018, Quanta acquired a for-profit college: Northwest Lineman College. With five campuses, the college trains workers in a pre-apprentice program and then places them. Within four years, a student can achieve journeyman lineman status – with good-paying career opportunities wide open.
As part of the acquisition of Northwest Lineman College, Quanta was on the receiving end of a large amount of history – the college had kept and/or acquired many “tools of the trade” from the mid-1800s. These artifacts prompted Colson, and Quanta’s board, to think about sharing them with the world.
“We’re going to open a Lineman’s Museum onsite,” Colson said. “And we will include a history of the Lazy Q Ranch as part of that display.”
The museum, which is already built, is expected to open to the public in 2020. It features hundreds of examples of equipment, tools, etc. The museum is overseen by Traci Jensen, who has immersed herself in the history of the area, as she plans out the displays and educational aspects of the museum. Numerous arrowheads have been found on the ranch, so the history of the Native Americans who roamed the area will play a prominent role in how the ranch’s history will be tracked through the Spanish land grant system and to the Rabb descendants, the Crofts.
“We are excited about the museum, and welcoming people to learn about the history of this ranch and the outside electrical industry,” Colson said.
Education All Day, Every Day
Not only has Quanta acquired its own training program for craft workers, it also has a relationship with Sam Houston State University. This program matches engineers and other majors with Quanta Services for trainings and internships – with many of those interns being offered careers with Quanta, or one of its subsidiaries. Of the company’s 39,000 employees, about 3,000 are based in the Houston area.