Preparing employees for tomorrow is what makes this year’s ‘Saskatchewan’s Top Employers’ stand out from the crowd
REGINA, Feb. 13, 2019 /CNW/ – A lot of employers talk about the need to train employees to make sure they have the skills needed to create the products that will be in demand tomorrow. But only a few leading employers have put these words into action. That’s the message from this year’s Saskatchewan’s Top Employers, announced today by the organizers of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project at Mediacorp Canada Inc.
“Saskatchewan is unique in Canada in having a significant public-sector component to its economy combined with relatively modest levels of immigration,” says Richard Yerema, Managing Editor of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project. “For employers, this makes it even more important to ensure their existing employees have the skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s economy. More than in other parts of Canada, Saskatchewan employers have a significant incentive to develop the skills of their existing workforce.”
“We see Saskatchewan employers taking a greater role in preparing their employees for tomorrow’s skills,” adds Kristina Leung, Senior Editor at the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project. “With softer prices for many of Saskatchewan’s primary commodities, more organizations are realizing they have to move up the value chain to compete internationally. The best way to do this is with employees who have the skills needed to create products and services that the world needs.”
Here are some of the notable initiatives that the editors recognized this year:
- Regina-based ISM Canada, a subsidiary of IBM Canada Ltd., operates a company-wide program called ‘Think 40’ that strongly encourages employees to complete a minimum of 40 hours professional development each year.
- Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. encourages ongoing employee development through full tuition subsidies for training courses, whether or not the course is related to an employee’s current position.
- Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies builds on its role as an educator by promoting employee skills development through in-house courses and subsidies (to $1,500) to obtain various professional certifications.
- Saskatoon Police Service reaches out to the next generation through a dedicated summer jobs program for Aboriginal students, as well as a special outreach program to youth who are newcomers to Canada and interested in a career in policing.
- Synergy Credit Union in Lloydminster encourages a culture of learning with tuition subsidies for courses that help employees improve their skills, plus cash bonuses (to $1,800) on the completion of particular training programs.
Now in its 14th year, Saskatchewan’s Top Employers is a special designation that recognizes Saskatchewan employers that lead their industries in offering exceptional places to work. Employers throughout Saskatchewan were evaluated by the editors at Canada’s Top 100 Employers using the same criteria as the national competition: (1) Physical Workplace; (2) Work Atmosphere & Social; (3) Health, Financial & Family Benefits; (4) Vacation & Time Off; (5) Employee Communications; (6) Performance Management; (7) Training & Skills Development; and (8) Community Involvement. Employers are compared to other organizations in their field to determine which offer the most progressive and forward-thinking programs. The annual competition is open to any employer with its head office in Saskatchewan; employers of any size may apply, whether private or public sector.
Founded in 1992, Mediacorp Canada Inc. is the nation’s largest publisher of employment periodicals. Since 1999, the Toronto-based publisher has managed the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project, which includes 18 regional and special-interest editorial competitions that reach over 13 million Canadians annually through a variety of magazine and newspaper partners. Mediacorp also operates Eluta.ca, the largest Canadian job search engine, which includes editorial reviews from the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project and is now used by almost 8 million users in Canada each year. Mediacorp also organizes the Top Employer Summit, Canada’s largest annual conference for senior-level HR professionals.
The full list of Saskatchewan’s Top Employers for 2019 is attached. This year’s winners were announced today in a special magazine published in the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Detailed reasons for selection, with dozens of additional stories and photos, were released this morning and are accessible via the competition homepage.
Saskatchewan’s Top Employers
3sHealth / Health Shared Services Saskatchewan, Regina
Access Communications Co-operative Ltd., Regina
ClearTech Industries Inc., Saskatoon
Cornerstone Credit Union Financial Group Limited, Yorkton
Creative Options Regina, Inc., Regina
Group Medical Services / GMS Insurance Inc., Regina
Harvard Developments Inc., Regina
Information Services Corporation / ISC, Regina
ISM Canada, Regina
K+S Potash Canada GP, Saskatoon
Pattison Agriculture Limited, Swift Current
Ranch Ehrlo Society, Regina
Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission, Regina
Saskatchewan Blue Cross, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association, Regina
Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation / SCIC, Melville
Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority / SIGA, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies / SIIT, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Research Council / SRC, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board, Regina
Saskatoon Police Service, Saskatoon
Saskatoon, City of, Saskatoon
Solvera Solutions, Regina
Southeast College, Weyburn
Synergy Credit Union Ltd., Lloydminster
University of Regina, Regina
SOURCE Mediacorp Canada Inc.
For further information: Anthony Meehan, Publisher, 416-964-6069 x1464
Mastermind Toys and Creative Options Regina
The result? These two organizations have earned exemplary reputations with the communities they serve and enjoy unusually high staff retention rates for their industries.
Mastermind has a unique philosophy for selling children’s toys and books. By fostering an educational approach, the company enriches not only the customer experience but the employee experience as well. In fact, they enjoy an average employee tenure of close to seven years — an almost unheard-of retention rate in retail stores.
Ryan Thorson, store manager of Mastermind Toys Terra Losa in Edmonton, Alberta, believes that the company’s workplace culture promotes a fun and inviting atmosphere that lives up to their motto: “We take play seriously.”
“I wanted to find a company where I could not only pursue career advancement,” Thorson says, “but also have it be a place that shares my values… a family-like atmosphere and a track record for treating its employees with fairness and respect.”
Mastermind was originally opened in 1984 by brothers Andy and Jon Levy in Toronto to sell educational software to families excited about their new home computers. Two years later, they opened a store in the Ontario Science Centre. Now with 60 stores across the country, and growing, Mastermind’s CEO, Jon Levy, understands the impact that his company can have on the communities where the stores are located.
In 2015, the company launched a partnership with WE (formerly Free the Children), a charity that supports youth education in Canada and overseas. In 2016, Mastermind stores raised $400,000, but the initiative isn’t just about giving back to the community; it’s also about engaging employees.
“Anne [Baston, vice-president of marketing] and I started to talk about the charitable side of our business and what we could do to broaden our horizons from the standpoint of how our employees were engaged charitably,” says Levy.
After much deliberation and brainstorming, the company selected WE. Its educational mandate plays well with Mastermind’s objective to sell toys that educate.
When they launched the initiative, many of the company’s younger employees were already familiar with WE from their school days. Selecting a charity with broad appeal, and that their employees were already comfortable with, made for a smooth, easy transference of enthusiasm from the top down. To drive home the impact that they are making through their charitable efforts, Mastermind takes managers of the stores that raise the most funds to Kenya on a yearly basis.
“Behind every great manager is up to 60 employees that get that store to greatness. Two store managers went with me and my wife, Karyn, who also works in the organization, the first year. The rest of their teams back in Canada got a fantastic reward package … Even though they didn’t go on the trip, they were highly congratulated with lots of prizing.”
Levy is always on the lookout for ways to connect with his employees. He started creating videos for the staff that, in addition to educating about a product, also introduces him to all employees in a playful, easygoing manner. This, in turn, helps break down uncomfortable hierarchy in the organization.
“Our inner kid, the way we like to play and what we think resonates with the community, really comes through in a personal way [with this] video program… so, it’s kind of fun,” he says. “When I visit stores, the newly hired staff say, ‘I know you, you’re on the video.’”
“Every store you go into, whether it’s out in B.C. or in Nova Scotia, it feels like family,” says Baston. “There’s a community feeling to all of the stores. Despite the fact that we’re growing… Mastermind does a really good job of hiring people with similar values. You can feel that when you walk into the stores, into the home office. I think that makes it very different from other retailers.”
Creative Options Regina (COR)
A culture of gentleness is woven into all aspects of the organization at COR — not just in how the individuals and families COR serves are treated, but in the people it hires and how each employee is mentored.
Michael Lavis, executive director, says that their method of “gentle teaching” is not specific to disability but rather can be applied to all people constructing supports for marginalized populations. “There are a handful of organizations — I think there are four of us now in Canada — working on this philosophy… which is really the foundation, the bedrock of the work that we do. And this is rooted in whether or not a person feels safe and valued — putting relationships at the core of care giving,” says Lavis.
The company is the seventh-largest care provider in Saskatchewan and employs 200 staff who serve 20% of the most challenging cases in the province’s service delivery system. Like other service providers, COR is contracted by the government to provide personalized support services for people with disabilities. What differentiates them from other providers, though, is the intentional shift they made to focus on their employees — the caregivers.
“By making that shift — by making sure we are nurturing our caregivers and that our employees are feeling cared for — what ends up happening is they give the utmost care to [our clients],” says Lavis. “So, it’s shifting the focus as an organization to our employees — to what the employee experience looks like, what the employee wants, what they need from us to feel supported and how we can really understand what is meaningful to our employees.”
Organizational culture is a popular topic these days, but Lavis challenges people to go one step further and work on shared values, as he feels that that has the greatest influence on culture. “What drives culture is value alignment. That’s something we’ve focused on, understanding the values of our employees … and where we see that alignment and shared common purpose,” he says.
In the Saskatchewan disability services sector the employee turnover rate was around 60% in 2015. By contrast, the turnover rate at COR has remained at a steady 9 – 14% since the company’s inception.
Creating a caring staff atmosphere is about understanding who is working for you and what is important to them. For most employees, a fair wage is critical. But for many that is only a small piece of a larger picture. There are other crucial factors, such as whether or not employees feel engaged and if their ideas and suggestions are listened to and valued. At COR, they have found that exploring employees’ passions and helping them bring those passions to life in the workplace is key.
“We have to have that conversation with our employees, because we need to know what it is that they want and need and whether that is something we are able to provide,” says Lavis.
Helping employees bring their passions into the workplace enables them to impart important life skills. For example, one COR employee who loves cooking offered to teach other employees to cook. As the average staffers’ age is 28, this is a skill that some of them may lack. COR helped the employee develop a monthly cooking class with regular attendance of 10-15 staff, who can now pass that skill onto COR clients.
Lavis says they plan to develop an art initiative next. The idea was brought to him by two employees who wanted to share their passion for art. “It’s a pivotal moment,” says Lavis. “A matter of us saying, ‘Yeah. I’d love to help you. How are we going to do this?’
“It’s easy to think of barriers of why they can’t do it. And that takes the wind out of their sails. But, by saying, ‘I love this idea. We just have to think it through a little bit more. Let’s talk.’ — Then, they are motivated and energized, and you know what? [Here we are now] developing an art studio. There were lots of barriers, but we have been able to work through [them] to be able to see it realized.”
Lavis believes that a customer-centric focus has actually harmed many companies. “People tend to focus on the customer and forget about their employees,” he says. “I think that, whether it’s a for-profit or not-for-profit business, if we want to provide the utmost care for those we are contracted to provide services to, that starts with us caring for our employees. If they feel well cared for, they are going to provide great care.”
I, Jusinda, have had the opportunity to work with people who each have their own unique abilities. I have been able to become creative in a variety of different ways to create a barrier free environment for the individuals I support. The training I received — Gentle Teaching and application has given me the tools to give value to relationships. I have come to have more compassion for individuals that have been in the system for most of their lives. It can be very complex; respect is not complex. Since I have been able to apply the skills I have acquired at COR I’ve come to realize our time and attention are our most valuable resources as people. So when we choose to focus our time and attention on people, and with that compassion, beautiful things can grow.
I have seen tremendous transformations in the people I support at COR with Gentle Teaching tools I have utilized. I have had the ability to learn from mistakes and grow through relationships. I have learned that relationships are not easy in this context, but I have chosen to give my time and attention to the individuals that I serve because I genuinely care about their progress and passions. I truly pride myself in being a part of the COR family, because COR is not your typical 9-5 job, as a support worker my job has taught me to be patient in the process of growth, and that growth is ongoing. The individuals I support at COR are my equals, my friends and the level of passion I see in them are what I look up to. They have shown me more about myself than I ever imagined. Gentle Teaching is effective and in line with my values about the approach taken when having a working relationship with individuals with varying abilities.
COR Family Member
Gentle Teaching has become a main part of my life. During my university career, I have done many presentations and projects based on gentle teaching because it applies to so many different areas of study; whether it be Psychology or Kinesiology and Health Studies. As Assistant Home Team Leader, I dedicated most of my support times (and outside support times) to making sure the people I support are physically healthy. I continue to do activities to keep the guys active and engaged, but allow them to decide which activities are right for them! I pre-cook and freeze meals so that it is easily accessible for the rest of the team. This is done so that supports aren’t tempted to buy unhealthy food! Since this started, I have continued to encourage others on the team to do the same as well. As a result, the team has all begun to contribute to grocery shopping and cooking wholesome meals. This was not so they could be “fit” or “skinny”, but to better compliment one’s overall quality of life. I am a strong believer in how physical health affects one’s mental health, thus my pursuit of a masters degree in sport and exercise psychology.
Although I recently stepped down as Assistant Home Team Leader, I have continued to keep many of the same responsibilities. The title of ATL was not my motivation to be a leader! I will continue to be passionate about caring for the people I support, as that is the foundation of Gentle Teaching. Their companionship and presence in my life is enough to want to help with the quality of it. COR has shown me that I am capable of my own academic accomplishments. Sport and Exercise Psychology is not popular in Canada just yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to follow my interests and turn them into my passion. Even though I have stepped down from my ATL role, supports still contact me when certain issues arise; they still want to hear my advice and experience. I love this! For the first time, I feel like I am a mentor. I like knowing it is not my leadership status that motivates them to ask me for help. I feel as though they ask because they know I am effective at solving problems while still keeping one’s emotions in mind. It has become a very empowering experience. I love the leader that COR and Gentle Teaching has enabled me to become!
Kyla, COR Support
A culture of gentleness for me has come naturally by genuinely caring for the three gentlemen I serve. Since I started at COR almost one year ago I have created relationships with the three guys I serve that without a doubt will last a lifetime. Being able to care for someone on a daily basis and watch them grow as people has been one of the most professionally satisfying accomplishments to date. Watching the look on the guys faces while they do things they love can turn even the worst of days around in a heart beat.
I would have to say I more so reciprocate a culture of gentleness however. To say I create a culture of gentleness would minimize the amount of caring that these individuals show us who come in to serve them. The three guys I support have some of the biggest hearts I have ever met. They will share what ever it is they have with out batting an eye. I strongly believe the culture of gentleness is created by those who we serve.
Danny, COR Support