Talent Management

By Lisa Kopochinski

There’s a saying: “What is old is new again.” For Cementation Canada, an underground mine contracting and engineering company with its main office in North Bay, Ont., this seems to ring especially true.

First established in 1950, the Cementation Company (Canada) Ltd. operated very successfully until its demise in the early 1980s. Fifteen years later, the UK-based Kvaerner Cementation Group was interested in re-establishing the Cementation brand in North America.

“At that time, I owned my own consulting business,” said Cementation president, Roy Slack. “I was hired by Kvaerner Cementation to look at acquisition opportunities in North America, with the goal of re‐establishing Cementation in the North American market.”

Upon presenting his recommendations – instead of pursuing the proposed acquisition – Slack was asked to start up a new North American operation.

“I had been working in the mining sector for approximately 16 years and wanted to create a team that merged the construction side of the business with full-discipline engineering capabilities,” said Slack. “The company has grown substantially from our 1998 start-up days. Today, I oversee Cementation’s operations in the Americas.”

Owned by Murray & Roberts out of South Africa – which purchased the company in 2004 – the Cementation group of companies has operations in North and South America, South Africa, Australia and Asia.

“We are truly a global company,” said Penny English, CHRL, Cementation’s HR solutions manager. “Our current headcount in the Americas is 1,194 with approximately 700 employees working in Canada. In Canada, we have offices in North Bay, Vancouver, Sudbury, Ont. and Rouyn-Noranda, Que.”

The company also has current or recent projects in numerous locations across the country in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec and the Yukon.

“Since we are a project driven company, we try very hard to hire as many of our people locally as possible,” said Slack. “This means a great deal of orientation work and safety training to instill our culture in those who are new to our organization. Local hiring also often means arrangements and training with First Nations and Aboriginal partners. A number of our projects are remote fly-in access, as well.”

Cementation has had successful collaborations with several First Nations partners.

“We work well with our clients and our First Nations and Aboriginal partners and endeavor whenever possible to provide training and employment opportunities on projects to First Nations employees,” he said. “We recognize that it is always a three-way partnership, and we must all be aligned to make these projects work. We cannot deliver on our mission statement without the support of our First Nations partners.”

A good example is Kitikmeot Cementation Mining and Development Ltd. (KCMD) – a partnership between Kitikmeot Corporation of Nunavut and Cementation Canada Inc. Established in 2005, the partnership services northern underground mine development work, while providing a platform for Inuit employment and training.
“KCMD is a mining partnership built on safety, success and respect for the North,” he said.

People first

With its mission statement: “To earn the distinction of being the mining contractor of choice of both clients and employees through excellence in safety, performance beyond all expectations, and building long-term relationships based on a ‘best for project’ philosophy,” English says the company is very proud of its core values, one of which is to treat its people well by giving them every opportunity to succeed.

The company has numerous development programs, but one that particularly stands out is the Leadership Development Program (LDP), which was created in-house by the HR solutions team.“This one statement really is the launching pad for everything we do in HR solutions,” she said. “If you note the name of the department, it’s not the HR department – it’s the HR solutions department, and we demonstrate that every single day to our employees.”

Several years ago, the department launched a rebranding strategy to highlight the many ways in which HR solutions can help its employees succeed. The strategy included vision, mission and values statements specific to the department that align with its corporate vision, mission and values.

“We created branding guidelines and ran a contest to create a tagline,” said English. “We ended up with ‘We’re here to help.’ And believe me, we most definitely are. My team knows that the first word out of our mouths when an employee comes to us for assistance is always ‘yes.’”

She cites just one of the many examples where an employee came to her department looking for financial assistance with tutoring her son, who was struggling with math.
“We looked into the cost of private tutoring and found it to be quite expensive,” said English. “Rather than go back to the employee and say ‘no,’ we developed an after-school tutoring program in which our employees tutor other employees’ children for up to two hours per week – after school and during working hours. Right now, we have one of our senior engineers helping a student with physics. The employee has an interest and passion in mentoring others and, of course, the student is gaining all kinds of benefit from the arrangement. Our employee is thrilled he was able to help out.”

Slack is proud of the company’s culture, where employees are willing to help each other out however possible.

“How we treat people is strongly influenced by how we have been treated in the past – both the good and the bad supervisors and coworkers, and companies we have worked for,” said Slack. “This is not blind influence or intuition. The way that individuals treat each other and care about each other drives a culture that establishes that as the norm.”
High employee engagement

It’s clear that Cementation Canada is doing something right. Just ask their employees. Over the past eight years, the company’s employee engagement rating has consistently been well above 90 per cent.

“I want our people to know that everyone contributes to the success of the organization,” said Slack. “If someone isn’t, then I first look at the management – not the worker. I believe that people want to work hard and do a good job (the exceptions are just that: exceptions). As managers, it is our job to make sure our people are engaged and contributing.”
English says that Cementation strives to keep its employees engaged by listening first and then acting.

“We provide multiple opportunities for employees to offer input on decisions we are making,” she said. “One very obvious thing is our employee suggestion box. What is unique about this method of collecting feedback is that our president personally responds to each and every submission. Also, his door is always open to any employee, which is really quite remarkable. As long as Roy’s door is open, you can drop in and chat with him about anything.”

Cementation also conducts annual employee surveys, which consistently has yielded response ratings at or above 80 per cent. English believes the ratings are so high because the company shares the results with employees and then makes very real and specific changes based on these results.

“We have increased the vacation policy, enhanced training opportunities for employees, created a respect program, a mentoring program and we also launched team building initiatives across head office,” she said. “These are just a few examples that all relate directly to employee survey results.”
Learning and development programs

The company has numerous development programs, but one that particularly stands out is the Leadership Development Program (LDP), which was created in-house by the HR solutions team.

Essentially, employees who have demonstrated leadership competencies are chosen for leadership development.

“Employees selected for this program meet with their manager and myself to discuss the program, to solicit participation from the employee and to discuss development needs,” said English. “Psychometric assessments are completed and based on these results – as well as feedback from the manager – and development plans are created for each employee in the program. Once employees complete all the requirements of levels 1 and 2, they are considered program alumni.”

There are numerous learning opportunities embedded in the program, including mentoring by senior managers and access to self-directed learning programs that cover more than 40 leadership topics. The self-paced modules include interactive learning activities, video insights and other downloadable tools.

“The benefits are significant,” said English. “Many employees have commented that the program has helped them develop relationships with other employees in the company, become more effective in their current roles, and overall communicate better.”

“I enjoy participating in the program and will let you in on a secret,” said Slack. “I’m probably learning as much or more than the participants. Every time I attend a session or review an assignment, mentor a participant or lead a training session, I am learning as well. This program was always a vision we had, but Penny and her team have made it a reality.”

The future

As for what the next few years hold for Cementation, English said, “With growth being one of the main objectives, our focus will be on continuing all of the great programs we are currently providing employees, while enhancing existing recruitment and retention strategies. With expansion planned in Canada and abroad, what a great opportunity for HR solutions to work with our Cementation HR partners globally to look at new and exciting ways to engage employees.”

Adds Slack, “Internationally, we feel there is a need for the service model that we envision, although that model is probably different than how we do projects in Canada or the U.S. We are developing that service offering and think it will lead to a variety of international opportunities with existing and new clients. What this means for our people is more training in project delivery, a better understanding of the full project lifecycle and opportunities on projects in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.”

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