Companies must reinvent themselves as employers
Job security, flexible hours as important as decent wages
The complex reasons for Ontario’s current labour shortage make employers pine for the old days when it was mainly money that motivated employees.
“It’s not necessarily just competitive wages employees want, but security, communication and appreciation,” said Jonathon Azzopardi, president of Laval International.
“Those three don’t cost a company a great deal other than time, some resources and good planning.”
Azzopardi acknowledges competitive wages are still important. Laval adopted the concept of a living wage for general labourers two years ago, but that wasn’t the only change the company made.
It also introduced new weekend shifts aimed at giving employees more flexibility. Employees work three 12-hour shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night but they’re off through the school week to be home for their children. The change was aimed particularly at helping make life easier for single parents. “Most people have more options for childcare on the weekends when family or friends are off,” said Azzopardi, who is looking for about 10 new workers, ranging from general labourers to management personnel and skilled tradespeople.
“We also pay a premium for weekend shifts to those in the weekend pool. Between the longer shifts and the premium, those employees will make the equivalent of a 40-hour week.”
The company also makes allowances for parents to adjust their schedule during the school week. Instead of the early morning starts traditional in the industry, the option to get kids off to school and start a little later is also offered. The company offers work-fromhome opportunities, as well. “The changes have absolutely helped us retain and attract people,” Azzopardi said.
With a little planning, the flexible shifts don’t cost the company anything extra, but have increased capacity by better use of existing labour, he said.
People want to feel good about what they’re doing Companies in all industries and service sectors are increasingly being forced to become less selective in their hires.
The philosophy has become: if they’re teachable, then they’re trainable.
“We’re increasingly hearing employers say: ‘Give me someone with a good work ethic and attitude and I can train them,’ ” said Adam Morrison, vice-president of projects and partnerships for the Ontario Tourism Education Corp., an organization that offers training and education in the hotel and hospitality sector. “Employers are looking for those soft skills — communication, teamwork, responsibility, reliability, meeting deadlines ... rather than wait for someone with the technical skills. Those people just aren’t there in numbers.”
Even in advanced manufacturing, it has become common for companies to take someone with raw talent and provide training. Unique Tool and Gauge has started a school within a plant, with an annual budget close to $1 million, to train skilled tradespeople. The company is taking on both those on an apprenticeship pathway and those who are not.
If they meet the standards expected of the one-year program, they ’ll be offered a permanent job. “It’s great if you have apprenticeship papers, but it’s not a necessity for us,” said Darcy King, president of Unique Tool and Gauge. “We’re going to train them to a standard well above what apprentices are required to do to meet the needs we have. We’ll certainly support with placement hours anyone who wants to pursue their apprenticeship too.”
Local construction and labour officials are also trying new approaches by working more closely with educators.
In the past couple of years, construction academy programs have been created at the Catholic board’s St. Joseph and Brennan high schools while the local carpenter’s union has teamed with the public school board to offer co-op opportunities in that field. Another choke point for the construction industry is finding enough project managers.
It has been working with St. Clair College to create a training program with an expected launch date in the spring of 2019, said Dave Colle, president of the Heavy Construction Association of Windsor and an assistant regional manager in Southwestern Ontario for Coco Paving.
Coco also offers placements for University of Windsor engineering students.
“We have three engineering students this semester and hope we can get at least one to stay,” Colle said.
“You have to hire from within, because there aren’t enough qualified people out there.” Employers admit they’re often left puzzled about what exactly motivates new employees. “I’m a millennial and even I have a hard time understanding them sometimes,” said a joking David Burman, owner of the Mr. Maid janitorial service. However, Burman is big on communication, and has used a progressive approach to exponentially grow his business.
Mr. Maid had two employees in July 2012 when Burman purchased the business. Six years later, the firm employs 57. “The cleaning business and moving businesses are among those with the highest turnover rates in any sector,” Burman said. “I wanted to position the company as a high-end cleaning service, and to do that, I have to identify good employees and retain them. Most of our people have been with us now for four-plus years.” Burman credits his approach to the positive workplace culture he learned from his days as an intern with the Walt Disney Company and as a supervisor with Costco Canada.
The first step was building a mindset in employees that they ’re more than just someone pushing a mop.
“People want to feel good about what they ’re doing,” Burman said. However, Burman is also realistic in knowing the role of money in maintaining employee loyalty. “I can confidently say we’re the highest pay cleaning company in Essex County. When minimum wage was down around $11, we were paying between $13-$16. Our staff got an average increase of 15 per cent. Our top rate is $20.” Burman also introduced other employee programs that recognize and reward performance. There’s the employee of the month award that carries with it a bonus. He also introduced a quarterly points system that rewards employees with a paid day off if they hit a certain threshold. Points are accumulated for attending meetings that aren’t mandatory, client compliments, not being late to jobs, attendance, not damaging equipment and picking up shifts when someone is sick. Burman has tried to foster a spirit of independent decision making. It’s reduced the need for employees to seek permission to do something once they’re experienced. Don’t underestimate the impact of small acts, like bringing coffees to a work site where there are two or three employees, or hosting a Christmas dinner at the office, he said.
Azzopardi said he’s found little touches, such as an accountant on site to do employees’ income taxes, has had a positive effect on employee engagement and improved workplace culture.
“I feel like they’re as invested in the company as much as I am,” said Azzopardi, who stays connected to his employees through regular meetings and surveys.
“In return, we’re getting employees who are more engaged in the company and more efficient. These types of things are absolutely helping us retain employees and grow.”
Dharmesh Patel, owner of Leamington’s Quality Inn and incoming regional chairman for the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, Motel Association, said he’s looking at making significant changes aimed at improving the life-work balance for workers to improve retention and recruitment rates.
“I’m considering changing shifts from three shifts of eight hours to four of six hours,” Patel said. “That might accommodate employees’ needs better.”
He’s also contemplating offering attendance or retention bonuses for employees.
In late March, Patel was one of five area employers to attend a Rural Jobs Fair in Peel.
The fair is intended to make immigrants in the Greater Toronto Area, where many first settle, aware of the career and lifestyle opportunities outside the Golden Horseshoe.
“I might have to consider looking farther afield still,” said Patel, who identified one possible candidate for a job.
Local construction and labour officials are working more closely with educators in a bid to train people to fill tomorrow’s jobs. Over the past couple of years, teens like Grade 11 student Maggie MacDonald have learned construction skills in a unique program based out of St. Joseph’s Catholic High School.
High school students such as Jordan Tannous, left, and Carson Hollinsky learn to work with tools in the Construction Academy at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School.
Unique Tool and Gauge has started a school within its plant to train skilled tradespeople, such as Reed Remillard.
Grade 11 student Jovaun Cooley receives instruction from Cory McAiney during a Construction Academy class at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School.