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2022 30 Under 35 Profile: Brittany Billa

Brittany Billa, 30
HR Generalist
Minerallac

Brittany first entered the electrical distribution industry when she was hired as an HR generalist at Minerallac at the end of 2018 but got her start in HR several years prior. “I graduated university with two very vague bachelor’s degrees: Communication and Spanish,” she recalled. “I took a job working as an office administrator/employee liaison in a warehouse setting right after college—for a company that had no HR department. My role slowly morphed into more of an HR administrator around 2015. During my time there I encountered a lot of overt racism and sexism among managers, and minimal resources for the employees to respond. I started advocating for and creating more formal HR policies and employee protections until the pushback from management eventually forced me to quit.”

Brittany admits that while her entry into the field isn’t a pretty story, “It really showcased the difference an HR professional can make and how much, though we would like to believe otherwise, there is still such a need for employee advocates.”

When Brittany found Minerallac she hadn’t been searching for a position in electrical. “I had been looking for a new opportunity for HR in an industrial environment, one that would afford me the room to grow professionally,” she explained. “Minerallac impressed me out of the gate: I interviewed with the HR manager and most members of Leadership Team and knew that this was an organization that saw the value of its employees and the role they play in the success of the business. In the intervening years between my first HR related job and the interview at Minerallac, I had come to think of the role of HR as kind of a middleman: advocating to company on behalf of the employees, while also being an advocate for the needs of the company itself. That continues to be the appeal of this role to me: fostering the symbiotic relationship between a business and its employees. This is something I have certainly seen from the other organizations I have been introduced to since entering the electrical industry, which was especially apparent during the pandemic: businesses providing essential products and services to public and doing it well by supporting some of the hardest-working people I have ever met.”

Asked about an issue facing electrical distribution right now, Brittany pointed to retention and hiring. “This has been more apparent than ever over the last couple of years, and it was exacerbated by the pandemic, when most electrical distributors were considered essential businesses and remained open—but so much of the workforce was opting to stay home,” she said. “More recently, as the pandemic seems to be ebbing (knock on wood), we are seeing an increase in jobs that have been on hold for years and are now finally being started; this means more work within the industry and high demand for workers. Couple this with rapidly increasing wages, low unemployment rates, and a changing labor force—and suddenly distributors are facing extreme difficulties in hiring and maintaining their workforce. Competition to fill these roles is fierce right now. In my role, I am working to combat this by focusing heavily on company culture and the employee experience. This has taken a number of different forms: wage analyses with substantial increases to get positions above market rate, a stronger focus on the company’s core values and more direct employee recognition, adding a new PTO spot bonus program, the addition of new wellness programs and health plan options —including the recent addition of an on-campus gym!—and a stronger focus on internal promotions and training opportunities. The point is to make Minerallac a great place to work and somewhere that employees want to stay. So far it seems to be working! Our turnover rates are well below the market average, and we have been able to fill most of our openings through either internal promotions or employee referrals.”

As for her future, Brittany was approached by the Leadership Team after about a year in her current role about moving into the role of HR director in 2023. “This role will not only mean more responsibility and managing another person for the first time, but also, eventually, a spot on our Leadership Team, which is responsible for overall company strategy and advises our board of directors,” she said. “It is certainly taking—and will continue to take—a lot of preparation.” To that end, Brittany spent the bulk of her locked-down time during the pandemic in an online program to get her master’s degree in strategic HR management. “That was a huge step forward! Now I am working on more direct training with my HR manager on her job duties, with my CFO on company operations, in a certification course for accounting and finance, and just trying to absorb as much information as I can on the industry from any source I can get my hands on,” she said.

What would Brittany tell someone just entering the industry? “Getting into electrical distribution feels like entering a very niche subsector of the industry—and it is—but it’s important not to let yourself get overwhelmed if you are not immediately familiar with it,” she offered. “As you enter the industry for the first time, you may know a lot about your profession, but very little about how that all fits in to the larger industry as a whole. And that is ok! Very few people enter electrical distribution as experts, and you will find such an outpouring of support from others as you learn and gain experience. Just always be willing to learn and to listen to those have been there before.”

When she’s not at work, Brittany enjoys spending time with her husband and two dogs at their vacation home at Lake Koshkonong, Wis. “Otherwise, my interests and hobbies are all pretty nerdy,” she admitted. “I love reading, video games, board games. I attend the Renaissance Faire multiple times a year and I will talk to anyone at any length about Harry Potter, Pokémon, and Lord of the Rings. Recently I’ve been focusing on crafting—crocheting and making wind chimes—which has been a ton of fun.”

Each year tED magazine recognizes 30 of the industry’s best and brightest under the age of 35. Please visit tedmag.com/30Under35 for nomination information and updates about the 2023 program. Questions can be sent to tED Editor Misty Byers at mbyers@naed.org.

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