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Culture of change: staffing

Changing workforce represents great opportunities for those looking to hire

January 16, 2020  By Julie Fitz-Gerald

From the seaside towns of Nova Scotia to the Rocky Mountains in B.C., Canada’s workforce is changing and employers are taking notice.

Over the last decade, staffing has become more and complicated for businesses as they contend with candidates who see themselves in the driver’s seat.

At the same time, science and technology sectors are beginning to see the benefits of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education with new demographics of potential employees seeking out STEM-related jobs, including drilling.


Carolyn Levy, president of Randstad Canada’s Technologies division says the challenges organizations face in staffing are complex. “We have a strong economy in Canada and there’s definitely a competitive job market, but what’s layering into this is how employees behave and what their expectations are of employers. They’re much more diverse. They’re what we refer to as being ‘complicated’ for their set of expectations on what they feel success looks like and what they want in the role, for example, flexibility,” she explains.

In years past, the interview process focused on how candidates performed: successful applicants showed the employer that they had the right stuff for the job. Not so today. “With this change in demographics from millennials up, you really need to be on point as an employer, being able to say ‘this is our purpose, this is our meaningful connection, this is how we’re a social enterprise, this is what we’re doing to move the dial forward in our industry in a holistic way that’s beneficial to humans.’ As employers, you need to be thinking about how you show up just as much as the employee,” says Levy.

It’s an interesting flip of the traditional interview process. Levy notes that while compensation is an important piece of the equation, other factors like flexibility, benefits, career-pathing, a healthy and supportive environment, and strong training programs are all important elements for potential employees.

Despite these evolving expectations in interview etiquette, the interview process continues to be an opportunity for employers to evaluate applicants and find the perfect candidate for the job. Levy advises businesses to look from a skills perspective and find out what experience the person will bring to the team. From the company culture angle “this means not just looking for someone who’s a cultural fit, but for someone who might be a cultural add to your organization.”

Darren Juneau, chief executive officer of Aardvark Drilling Inc., based in southwestern Ontario, says his biggest challenge is finding qualified candidates, with most interested hires having no prior experience. Aardvark operates with an average of 40 employees, a number that increases during the busy summer months. They work in mostly technical and environmental drilling, but have recently forayed into domestic well supply. He says that while hiring a candidate with drilling experience is preferred, it’s not always possible.

“We’ve found that we can take someone with a good work ethic and good head on their shoulders and develop them successfully,” Juneau explains. “If you’re a problem solver and can take direction well, we can turn that individual into a good helper and then a good driller.”

Beginning with a detailed screening process and followed by a strong on-boarding system, Juneau has achieved a high staff retention rate. “Instead of just hiring anybody, we put a lot of effort up front into the hiring process. We take three or four months to find the right candidate, so even though it might not be a quick hire, they end up staying,” he says.

Juneau looks for college or university graduates (not necessarily in drilling, although that is preferred), because it shows they can stick with a commitment and get it done. He also calls at least three references to get a good feel for the candidate and ensure they’re reliable and a team player.

Once hired, the on-boarding process begins. “Our new hires do three days of in-class training in the office, learning about the health and safety programs, how to work in the field and what’s expected of them. Then they go through a minimum of 40 hours as an observer – this ensures they won’t hurt themselves or others. After that, they can go out as part of a two-person crew,” Juneau says.

Mentorship is also key, although not always possible in the field. “Mentorship works well. If we can pair up a new employee with someone who’s experienced in the field, we have a lot of success. It’s not always possible, but if we can keep them paired the success rate is higher.”

Levy agrees that mentorship is an integral part of employee satisfaction, which inevitably leads to overall success for the business. “There’s this emerging piece where we’re seeing the value of mentors and sponsors and the role that they play. Ensuring companies have that set up, whether formal or informal mentoring, is going to be important,” she notes.

Mentorship creates opportunities across demographics and is crucial to finding and training quality candidates that are a great fit with your business. In a recent Randstad Canada survey as part of its “Women transforming the workplace” initiative, this point was made clear. According to Levy, the survey found that four in 10 working Canadians believe that men in leadership roles in Canada should be working to create more opportunities to help women advance, while two in 10 agreed that should extend to minority groups.

The reality is that women and visible minorities are underrepresented in certain sectors, including drilling. Juneau says that currently 10 per cent of Aardvark’s employees are women, including office staff and field staff, which is a greater number than in the past. It is a number he hopes will increase in the future. “There’s been a successful push of STEM in education and when we attend job fairs we’re seeing more girls who have gone through the drilling and blasting course at Sir Sandford Fleming College. When I post a lead looking for people, I do see applicants from women for field positions, so that’s encouraging,” he says.

When Aardvark first began in 2002, Juneau says it had only one female worker in the field, but over the last eight years, seven or eight women have held field positions with the company.

Despite the strides being made, there is still much work to be done. Levy says that Randstad’s survey found both men and women responded that men are more likely to excel in math, science and computers, whereas women are more likely to excel in caregiving, communications and fine arts. “This survey was done just recently, so we’ve got to kill these stereotypes that exist. Working to kill them will help draw more women in,” Levy says.

Juneau credits a strong company culture of respect and sensitivity for the success of female employees at Aardvark. “We treat the employees with respect and we expect that back. If there’s a problem, we deal with it. People can have their moments and there can be backslide, but with women in the workforce here, the workers are seeing that this isn’t just a statistic. We have someone representing this demographic who’s providing quality work and that raises awareness. They realize they need to be more open to it and it’s not just the boys’ club anymore,” he explains.

Juneau is hoping to see a similar trend with visible minorities in drilling. Currently he employs two people from this demographic, noting that most of his applicants are white males. “With science and engineering, Canada has a great schooling program and people worldwide are taking courses here and getting hired by engineering firms in Canada, so I’m seeing more diversity that way, but when is it going to trickle down to skills and labour? And how will that benefit my company? For example, if a company that spoke predominantly Mandarin was looking to hire a driller and I had a driller on my team that spoke fluent mandarin, I would think that would be an asset.”

For employers, a surge in STEM initiatives paired with global interest in Canadian education is sure to boost to the number of quality candidates they see in the future.

Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Ground Water Canada.

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