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.

Jonathon Az­zopardi

Darcy King

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