By Jeff Awalt, Executive Editor
DCA Puts Spotlight On Workforce At 57th Annual Convention
The Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) expects another year of record-breaking attendance when more than 500 members and guests meet on the California coast for its 57th Annual Convention.
DCA’s biggest gathering of the year marks an unofficial kickoff to the upcoming construction season, and a positive business outlook for 2018 should set an upbeat tone for the event, to be held Feb. 25-March 2, at the Monarch Beach Resort in Orange County’s Dana Point.
“All the forecasts we see indicate our industry is on a roll, and one of the things we will be focusing on at our convention is the downside to business being so good – that the workforce isn’t there,” said the association’s Executive Vice President Rob Darden. “We hear stories of contractors who are turning down jobs because they don’t have the crews to complete the work. In 2018, DCA is refocusing our efforts on workforce development.”
DCA is working with the Center for Energy Workforce Development in Washington, D.C., to adapt the online tools it’s developed for other areas of industry to the underground construction and gas distribution sector.
DCA is also partnering with SkillsUSA to help build awareness among secondary-school students that the contracting industry offers good career opportunities that don’t require a college degree. The collaboration with SkillsUSA led DCA to engage Mike Rowe as the opening keynote speaker for its annual convention.
Rowe, the media personality best known for creating and starring in the television series Dirty Jobs, Somebody’s Gotta Do It and Returning the Favor became a leading advocate for SkillsUSA after launching a website focused on the decline in the blue-collar trades and the crumbling state of the infrastructure. The mikeroweWORKS Foundation started a campaign “to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”
DCA recently added another media personality to its agenda as closing keynote speaker for the conference. Mark Steyn, a Canadian author and conservative political commentator, is a popular guest host of the Rush Limbaugh radio program and Tucker Carlson’s television show.
Other speakers include Alan Mayberry, Associate Director of PHMSA, who will headline the business session; and Tim Lawrence, executive director of SkillsUSA, who will lead a Workforce Development discussion during the convention
Darden said he hopes this year’s annual auction will top the record of over $900,000 raised last year. Auction proceeds help cover costs for the convention and fund a variety of DCA activities, including the workforce initiative. More than $120,000 in scholarships were funded by the 2017 auction.
“It’s an exciting time for the industry and a fun time to be leading the association,” Darden said. “Dale Mykyte has been a great president, and we have an excellent board and outstanding sponsors for this event. We look forward to everybody turning out for the start of a very productive year.”
Born on Vancouver Island and raised in the heart of the Redwater oilfield, Dale Mykyte wasn’t thinking about a career after graduating from his rural Alberta high school. Mykyte just wanted a paycheck, and he found plenty of ways to earn one around Canada’s busy oilfields. He worked as laborer, a rig hand, an apprentice electrician, and even did a stint in banking before joining oilfield trucking company Kaps Transport as a sales rep in 1980. He worked with various companies to improve their operations before joining Pe Ben in 1988, eventually serving as vice president of its U.S. operations, then negotiated to buy the U.S. assets from Mullen Group when it acquired Pe Ben in 2006.
Pe Ben USA’s dramatic growth is illustrated by its current fleet of 210 trucks and 300 trailers, compared with 18 trucks and 20 trailers about 10 years ago. Mykyte says Pe Ben USA’s success is based on the same advice he gave other companies as a turnaround specialist: “Just make the most of your underutilized resources and concentrate more on people. I’ve always believed in people.” It’s a philosophy that has served Mykyte well as president of the Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) during a year of progress in the critical area of workforce development.
How did you get started with Pe Ben, and how have things changed since you took over the U.S. business?
When I joined Pe Ben in 1988, I think their gross revenues were around $4.5 million. I came down to the United States in 1995 to manage a Pe Ben contract for TransCanada Pipelines, and as soon as that was finished we came right back down here again. By the time they were taken over, their revenues were 12 times that. After the takeover, I met with the new owners to discuss an agreement for me to buy the U.S. operations. We agreed and I bought it, and we’ve never looked back. It was the same assets, the same clients and everything. It just became Pe Ben USA. Of course, everything changes when you own it.
I’d rather be lucky than smart, and that’s the God’s honest truth. When opportunities presented themselves, we took advantage of them. We’ve invested a lot of money on equipment to be ready for those opportunities. That’s a big roll of the dice in this day and age, because it could dry up at any moment. Our business is very niche, and we only get one opportunity to build that pipeline. It’s not like when you’re hauling Cheerios, and next week they need another load of Cheerios because they sold out. They’re not going to build that pipeline again.
We’ve had a lot of good luck, a lot of opportunities, and a lot of good people who’ve helped us along the way, both employees and clients.
What led you to get so involved with DCA?
Our CEO at Pe Ben was president of the Pipe Line Contractors Association of Canada and attended a DCA convention in the U.S. He was impressed with the organization, and I was running their U.S. operations at the time, so he encouraged me to get involved. At first I told him, you know, we don’t do a lot of distribution work. But he convinced me to go, and my first event was the 2003 Annual Convention at Sanibel Harbor in Florida. After that, I went to more conferences and got involved in the education committee. I served many years as a director and the last three years on the executive committee. We have made lifelong friends and associates and clients ever since. It helped me establish relationships with my clients and get involved in other aspects of the industry.
What were your priorities as DCA president in 2017?
Our top two priorities have been related to workforce and the OQ (operator qualification) portability. The workforce issue will be a big area of focus at our annual convention, because it’s so critical to our industry, and DCA is really stepping up our efforts to address this issue.
We teamed up in 2017 with some organizations that will help us reach more young people and make them aware of the career opportunities available in our industry. One of them is SkillsUSA, which has about 400,000 kids involved across the United States. Its goal is to help fill the gap that was left behind when schools took shop and industrial arts and those kinds of things out of the classroom. That’s how we got with Mike Rowe, our opening keynote speaker for the convention, because he’s a big supporter of SkillsUSA.
One of the things that’s really been hurting our industry is that there are so many people telling kids they have to go to college. We’re not saying college is bad, but not everybody needs to take on $60,000 of debt to go and have an arts degree. It’s not for everybody, and we have to focus on letting the kids know that our industry exists and that they can get out of high school and make a good living without taking on all of that college debt. This is a big effort, a big focus for DCA going forward.
Has the DCA had any other accomplishments that you’re especially proud of during your term as president?
I think we’re making a lot of progress toward gaining recognition amongst peers such as the American Gas Association, the Pipe Line Contractors Association and other organizations. The lobby efforts in Washington have been important to our industry, and I think we’ve done a good job there. I’m proud of the respect that DCA has gained across the entire industry. We have an excellent staff and a lot of people working on committees to get things done, and I’m proud to be associated with them and their accomplishments.
What is your outlook for the contracting business as we enter 2018?
I think it’s positive. I see the economy growing, and I think there is going to be a lot of work for our distribution contractors related to new residential and business development. I see a lot of construction work ahead in the distribution sector for rehabilitation of existing pipelines, and new regulatory mandates are likely to make rehabilitation of existing infrastructure a huge growth market.
But we have challenges, too, and I think we are all concerned about the amount of misinformation that’s going out to the public about pipeline construction. I look to Canada and the TransMountain Pipeline, as a recent example. That pipeline is older than me. They’ve been pumping oil through there since 1953 and nobody even knew it was there. Now they want to twin it and increase the capacity. That is the beauty of the pipeline industry – you don’t know we’re there. That is, until someone spreads misleading information about it.
How is your business being affected by the anti-fossil fuel movement, and what do you think can be done about it?
I think all we can do is keep putting out the real information. We’ve had our own issues with protests. We’ve had equipment that has been burned and destroyed by protesters. It’s rather ironic, because they set it on fire right beside the water that they’re claiming to save, and chemicals from the burning tires and everything seeped into the river. It’s frustrating when highly educated friends make comments and I say, “Do you know that’s not real? That you don’t have the correct information?” And I explain it to them, and they just shrug.
When people believe something to be true, then it is.
It’s always been the nature of our industry to just keep our mouths shut, our noses down and go to work. We can’t do that anymore.
We have to keep making an effort to put out the real information.
It’s been nearly a year since President Trump took office and cleared the way for pipeline construction. How has the business climate changed under the new administration?
It has made a change, and I’m happy we’ve got somebody who looks favorably on business in Washington. When Mr. Trump came in, all of a sudden we had work back on our doorstep, so it’s been good for our industry and good for my company, and we’re here to take advantage of it. The previous administration did everything in its power to shut us down from any type of new pipeline construction.
A new administration gets in, and we build the (Dakota Access) DAPL pipeline and the Rover pipeline.
Companies like ours are putting people to work and feeding families. We peaked out at almost 600 employees last year. We invested in more trucks or trailers, and that means the truck manufacturer and the tire manufacturers who supply them are hiring more people. The people we purchase supplies and diesel fuel from are feeding their families. It’s not hard to see how this spreads out to benefit the whole economy.
You’ve remained a family-owned company. Is your role changing as the next generation assumes more responsibility?
I have been so fortunate with the team we’ve got here. My son, Dustin Mykyte, is the president of the company and we’ve put together a great team, so I don’t lose much sleep at night anymore. They do a great job of running things.
As far as my role at the company, I can sum that up very well. We were at another company’s Christmas party recently and this fellow came up to me and shook my hand and said, “Well, you’re Dustin’s dad aren’t you?” It’s what you want to happen, but it kind of hits you in the gut when you hear it! So I’ll come to work one morning and the sign on my office will be, “This way to Dustin’s dad’s office.”