Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2021) and Alberta's Top Employers (2021):
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 12, 2020)
Here are some of the reasons why PCL Construction was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2021) and Alberta's Top Employers (2021):
- PCL Construction and its employees worked with industry partners to create temporary care and treatment "pods" from shipping containers to be used by health care agencies and other organizations during the pandemic
- PCL Construction provides a variety of learning opportunities for employees at various stages of development, including the PCL College of Construction (with over 2,000 courses and custom training), in-house apprenticeships, and a new "Learn2Go" micro-learning initiative which employees can access anytime and from anywhere
- PCL Construction offers a range of health and wellness resources through its WellPCL program and organizes activity challenges with prizes for completing certain tasks -- additionally, the company offers an allotment of $500 per year, which can be allocated to a lifestyle spending account for personal wellness-related expenses
PCL Construction paves a unique pandemic path
So, here’s a new COVID-19 test. How do you comply with the required two-metres safety separation for the two workers it takes to lift and install a heavy door that is only one metre wide? That’s the challenge Lisa Gray faced as PCL Construction project manager for a $720-million new hospital being built just north of Toronto that involved up to 1,000 workers.
“When COVID-19 hit, some people didn’t feel comfortable coming to the site,” recalls Gray. “Everyone was anxious. We had to make them feel secure; we had to ensure they were safe.”
Meeting with the various trades collectively and individually, Gray pointed out that PCL was ahead of the curve on implementing government COVID-19 health-safety mandates. Indeed, the Edmonton-based company, with operations throughout Canada, the United States, Caribbean and Australia, had made wearing face masks mandatory well before it was required anywhere.
At Gray’s hospital project, PCL installed more washrooms and additional hand-washing sites and scoured rural distilleries for hard-toprocure hand sanitizer. Hotel rooms were rented for those who felt a need to self-isolate after work. Nurses were hired to operate an onsite screening protocol, including temperature taking, before workers were allowed entry to the site.
“The screening made people feel safer,” Gray says. “As for the door challenge, we acquired personal protective equipment that allowed for people to work safely closer than two metres.”
Safety, whether during a pandemic or not, is ingrained into PCL’s culture. A large part of that stems from PCL being a construction company, but a large part also comes from the fact that PCL is employee-owned. “As a construction company, we are obviously concerned about safety,” says Mike Olsson, vice-president of human resources and professional development. “But our ownership culture makes all the difference.”
Explains Olsson: “As employeeowners, especially during a pandemic, we want everyone to be safe so the company can continue to be successful. For us, wearing face masks in our offices and on job sites is just as important as wearing hard hats and steel-toed boots. Our attitude is: we can work through this together, and we can work through this safely.”
Olsson is also proud that PCL employees have maintained their historic support for the community throughout the pandemic. “We are likely to surpass the $9.4 million the employees and company donated last year,” he says. “We believe in our communities as well as in our projects.”
In Ottawa, for example, a PCL crew and its joint-venture partner, EllisDon, working on a years-long renovation of the Centre Block Parliament Building, helped raise more than $200,000 for a local mental health hospital. Across the country, PCL donated N95 masks to hospitals and local health authorities.
Working with industry partners and an Ontario architectural firm, PCL developed and built “care” pods for COVID-19 testing and temporary isolation for patient treatment. The initiative was so successful that Manitoba has ordered 90 of the pods to be used as a safe place where long-termcare residents can meet visitors.
This marks the 12th consecutive year that PCL has been selected as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. But Olsson maintains that the distinctive ownership structure means the honour is really an employee award. “We believe we are a top employer because employee-owners care about building people, not just projects, through professional development and other opportunities to make sure everyone is successful.”
Gray agrees. “As a part-owner, everyone wants to help each other. That way, we all share in our success.”
At PCL Construction, the owners are on site
At PCL Construction, the mammoth Edmonton-based international construction firm, they don’t practice typical employer-employee relationships. Company shares are not publicly traded. Instead, the owners are the employees.
Close to 90 per cent of the staff have an ownership stake – and that makes all the difference in the world. Not just in sharing profits through annual dividends, but in attitude.
“We work for ourselves and we care for each other,” says Dan Cettiga, project manager for the Cascade Power Plant, a 900-megawatt project under construction just outside of Edson. “It’s the root of what we are.”
Cettiga adds: “When you work for yourself, you pay attention to all the little things. The senior people listen because you are an owner, and they want you to do well because then everyone does well.”
Indeed, Cettiga says he has received top-notch training opportunities to develop professionally since he joined PCL in 2008. “They put you on a runway and see how far you can fly,” he says. “My managers have always encouraged me to think for myself, to take ownership and keep growing.”
Clearly, that attitude seems to be working. Says Cettiga: “The office walls are covered with 25-year service plaques.”
For his part, Mike Olsson, PCL’s vice president of human resources and professional development, reflects management’s view of the company’s secret sauce. “We are a special place,” he says, “because we build people as well as projects. We want everyone to flourish. We want to ensure our fellow owners are supported in all aspects.”
Those other aspects include a recent increase in health spending for mental health services coverage, with no added expense to employees, as part of the company’s dedication to employee health and safety.
And then there’s the commitment to community, unwavering despite COVID-19. Charitable fundraising continued unabated, matching last year’s total. In Edmonton alone, employees, with a matching amount from the company, raised $2 million for the United Way. “We are committed to the communities we work and live in,” says Cettiga.
Meanwhile, when the pandemic hit, PCL was ahead of the curve in mandating social distancing and face masks on its construction sites while encouraging office staff to work from home. Learning of a mask shortage, PCL donated more than 1,000 from its supplies to provincial health care networks across the country.
Says Cettiga: “It’s all part of who we are. It makes it easy to come to work where the people are honest, transparent and ethical.”
Recognized as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2021):
By Kristina Leung, Stephanie Leung, and Jing Wang, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Jan 18, 2021)
Here are some of the reasons why PCL Construction was selected as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2021):
- PCL Construction recruits master's and PhD students from across Canada to take part in engineering internships, during which participants develop a research project related to their area of specialization (computing science, civil, mechanical, or electrical engineering)
- As part of the PCL Student Program, students receive ongoing support and feedback from their immediate supervisor as well as an assigned buddy, and have various opportunities to engage in meaningful work throughout their 4 to 16-month term
- PCL Construction's Central Relocation Services team formalized a junior mobility program to create a welcoming environment for students relocating to take part in an internship -- the program provides information on housing and transportation, as well as introductions to other students
PCL’s youth-friendly style builds careers
Even a decade later, Aravinthan Ahileswaran remembers the exact date: June 15, 2011. Ahileswaran, then a University of Waterloo management-engineering student, was preparing for an on-campus interview for a prized co-op program placement with PCL Construction, the Edmonton-based international construction firm giant. “I’d already had two co-op placements with other companies,” he says, “but I was really pumped for this one.”
Ahileswaran explains: “I had read all about PCL and was super ecstatic about the interview. But when I walked into the room, I was super nervous.”
He needn’t have worried. “The HR people put me at ease right away,” Ahileswaran recalls. “First, we talked about Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals that night. They were very easy to speak with: fun, relaxed and personable. And when I left, I was fairly confident that they would choose me.”
They did, and Ahileswaran also chose to take his next three co-ops with PCL. “The people were amazing,” he says. “Even though I was a student, they treated me as a member of the team. And there was always someone ready to offer a helping hand with a smile.”
When he graduated in 2014, there was a PCL job waiting for him in the Toronto area. He didn’t hesitate. A sense of shared values sealed the deal. “I wanted to work at a place where there was a sense of purpose, as well as opportunities for growth,” says Ahileswaran, now a superintendent on a massive provincial government office retrofit in Toronto.
“Every day on my way to work, I feel proud as I pass by a hospital I helped to build. I know it is benefiting people in need. Everything we do at PCL has a greater significance and purpose.”
Ahileswaran has also had plenty of growth opportunities in the past decade and is currently in PCL’s accelerated superintendent development program, which focuses on fast-tracking development for PCL’s rising stars. Now, he is looking forward to enrolling in its prestigious Leadership Academy to continue his career growth.
Meanwhile, Ahileswaran is proud to be part of the 90 per cent of staff that owns a piece of PCL through its employee-share purchase plan. PCL is 100-per-cent employee owned. “I couldn’t wait to become a shareholder,” Ahileswaran says. “It makes you care a lot more about your work since you own a piece of the pie. It also creates a sense of belonging.”
Mike Olsson, PCL’s vice-president of human resources and professional development, says that’s the idea. “When new hires come aboard,” he says, “they are embraced and supported because when they are successful, everyone benefits.”
While Ahileswaran’s path to PCL was paved by its co-op program, mostly filled by engineering students, Olsson stresses that students from other disciplines also have opportunities to intern at the company. “At any one point in time, nearly 10 per cent of our staff can be students,” he says. “We work with more than 50 post-secondary institutions to fill up to 600 four-month work terms. It speaks to our confidence in young people.”
Clearly, that approach is working. More than half of entry-level hires are former PCL student workers. “The exposure we offer is second to none,” Olsson says. “For a young person, the PCL world’s an oyster.”
These days, Ahileswaran is a mentor to incoming hires. And he returns to Waterloo to sit in on the co-op interviews. “I can imagine what’s going on in their heads, and I do whatever I can to relax them. It’s cool.”