Kim Ernest readily admits that she doesn’t mind the chaos of the building world. In fact, it seems that’s where she can do her best work. But that doesn’t make it easy for the associate vice president of construction at The Learning Experience (TLE). You just need ask how she got to her current role.
After a decade of operating her own general contracting company, Ernest made the move in-house in 2017. She came to TLE in July 2019, less than six months before the entire construction world would be turned on its head by COVID-19.
“I was barely into my role that involved extensive travel when suddenly everything just came to a halt,” the associate vice president says. “My job went away, and I found myself at home for a few months. I was so disappointed, because in that short period of time I had come to love the team and the organization so much.”
Then, one day she found herself answering the phone from whom she thought was a friend back at TLE. It was actually HR; they were hoping she would come back. There was an influx of new projects during a transitionary period at the organization, which is one of the fast-growing childcare franchises. Forty-five centers were completed in 2022, 39 in 2022, and more than 50 are expected to be completed by the end of 2023. TLE also has development underway in the UK, marking a total of 344 centers currently open.
Ernest would be coming back to a role far different that her original construction manager role. She’d now be overseeing construction and facilities, because, in no uncertain terms, the post-COVID environment had created entirely new structures and processes that needed to be built out, institutionalized, and maintained.
Meanwhile, she was building out an entirely new construction team. The key, Ernest explains, was to document absolutely everything and have it in writing for future members of her team.
Hail The Driver
Kim Ernest took part in a training session conducted at The Learning Experience recently that helped her and her colleagues learn about their social styles. Ernest, surprising no one, is what is called a driver.
“While this is something I think my team certainly knew about me, I think it was a great exercise for us to go through and consider how we communicate and collaborate,” she says. “It helps me understand where they are and how I can be openminded in meeting them there.”
“It was easier for me to give a new hire an entire document just in case they couldn’t get a hold of me,” the associate vice president says. “It was a rollercoaster, but all of that work has paid off, and we continue to grow our team today.”
TLE’s footprint has also grown steadily, though the pandemic did its best to hamper progress there as well. Ernest recalls a build in Colorado that was surpassing every possible expectation in terms of speed and efficiency. It was going so well; she fully intended to use it as a template for all future builds.
Everything had been ordered except for a switch gear disconnect. No one could find one anywhere. It grounded the flying project for four months.
“We were stopped by one item,” Ernest says with a groan. “Granted, it’s a major item, but it’s still one item. I knew we could never let something like this happen again.”
Ernest says it was imperative to take a step back and examine the speed at which TLE teams operate and whether their speed might outweigh their ability to see potential problems on the horizon. That one needed item has, in some ways, reshaped a great deal of the way TLE has moved forward with future builds.
“That process allowed us to take a step back and think about what else we might be missing,” Ernest says. It’s not the kind of template the associate vice president wanted out of the Colorado project, but it will pay dividends down the road nonetheless.
Whatever the project, Ernest says it’s imperative to keep TLE’s “little learners” top of mind. If you’re not familiar with TLE right off the bat, perhaps you’ve met Bubbles the Elephant, the resident Learning Experience mascot, who takes little learners on a daily adventure in their classrooms and makes them happy to learn, play, and grow.
Branding is an important component of all TLE builds, and vinyl graphics featuring all of the company’s characters have been deployed to greet little learners wherever they are. It’s a small but important detail that Ernest says brings her joy every time she sees a new build at its completion.
Those are the moments where the rapid change doesn’t reign, and Ernest can enjoy those, too, every once in a while.
CED National Accounts strives to be the market leading provider of electrical, lighting, and energy management products and solutions. We provide value for our clients, employees, and vendor partners through our core values of service, integrity, and reliability. We are proud to partner with Kim Ernest and The Learning Experience!
Jarmel Kizel Architects & Engineers, Inc. provides a single point of accountability for all aspects of architectural and engineering design services. With in-house architecture, interior design, civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering, clients can look to Jarmel Kizel to have all aspects of their projects designed and managed by one firm. From conceptual design to land entitlements and through construction, Jarmel Kizel’s professionals assist their clients every step of the way.