Mentorships, events give boost to young workers

Top employers for young employees also providing apprenticeships, transfer opportunities
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

In the latter stages of an $8.2-billion capital expansion project, PotashCorp has hired more than 1,000 people in the last few years while looking to replace employees who are nearing or entering retirement, according to Lee Knafelc, Saskatoon-based vice-president of HR and administration.

“We need all kinds of employees... but the young demographic is really key for us and it’s really where our opportunity lies to develop those people early in their careers and keep them for a long time and give them a great career opportunity,” he said.

The mining company has several initiatives for young people, which helped put it on the list — along with 79 others — of Canada’s Best Employers for Young People for 2013, compiled by Mediacorp Canada.

Through a summer student program, PotashCorp focuses on hiring students in engineering and skilled trades.

“It’s been a great feeder, a pipeline for us to tap into great talent and certainly quite a number of those people who worked for us as students or interns have joined us later as permanent employees… which really is the ideal scenario,” said Knafelc.

The company also manages a tuition incentive program for post-secondary students.

“If we have a really high-performing summer student who is going into their final year... we can extend an offer of employment to them for when they finish their fourth year, and also provide tuition for that fourth year,” said Knafelc.

The company also has two-year engineer and geologist-in-training programs, with rotations at multiple divisions and a permanent placement at the end. It’s been a game-changer in terms of attracting and developing young talent, he said.

But it’s not all business, as PotashCorp — which has 2,800 employees in Canada and 6,000 globally — also offers sports teams and social events, such as bocce ball at lunch.

“We’re not a high-tech company with a slide in our lobby or whatever else, we’re kind of a traditional type of employer but we can still offer an environment where people feel like they can bring whatever interests they have and maybe share them with their co-workers and have some fun,” said Knafelc.

Knight Piésold reaches out

Despite being 92 years old, engineering firm Knight Piésold knows the importance of reaching out to younger workers — which is why it made the 2013 list by Mediacorp.

“We like to attract a spectrum of appropriate staff members and certainly the younger sector (brings) an energy, a cutting-edge mentality as well,” said Chris Brodie, manager of environmental services in Vancouver. “We’re constantly evolving and that youthful energy and that open-mindedness is key to succeeding.”

The company, which has 185 employees in Canada and 850 globally, has a global career development program where workers can transfer among its offices for up to three years to experience a different culture, business setting and projects.

All employees at Knight Piésold are also assigned a mentor who is a senior manager or shareholder, and a teammate to assist with assignments.

“The mentor at the senior level has the ability to influence the project work that they’re exposed to and also the project teams that they work with, and make sure that their technical expertise as well as project management and client management and understanding of different geographical requirements and so on are expanded,” said Brodie.

The company also offers flexible work hours, a formal orientation program, sports teams and social events.

“There’s so many places where people want to check out at the end of the day and get the heck out of there. In our case, it’s an extension of their life. They’re pleased and happy to be part of the social aspect of the team,” he said.

Cameco about apprenticeships

Young people are a target audience for Cameco as it transitions some of its key workforce, according to Sean Junor, manager of workforce planning and talent acquisition at the uranium producer, which was also among the 2013 winners.

The company manages a trade apprenticeship program that includes a mentorship with an experienced journeyperson, financial support for tuition, and living and travel expenses.

“We are very fortunate that we have a good relationship with our union... and they’re very understanding of the need to bring in new and younger workers at the apprenticeship level to augment journeypersons,” he said.

Cameco also has an engineer-in-training program to assist new graduates with mentoring and rotational assignments at several work sites.

“(They) get exposure to new teams, new leaders, new supervisors, and that helps them in their development in their early stages,” said Junor.

The company also offers a chapter of North American Young Generation in Nuclear, hosting lunch-and-learn events, workshops and networking events. It’s important to educate young people so they become informed ambassadors, he said.

“It also gives you additional exposure to what’s going on in the industry and the role Cameco plays in that industry because, let’s face it, the nuclear industry is complex and the more we can demystify it for our employees, the better.”

YMCA looks to future

The YMCA of Greater Toronto has several initiatives directed at youth that helped put it on the 2013 top employers list. The goal is to offer benefits and opportunities so young workers can grow into future leaders, according to Tammy Walker, HR general manager.

A Youth Advisory Council to the board of directors allows young people to contribute and interact with senior-level members. Some can also sit on the CEO’s council on research, policy and advocacy.

“They give recommendations from a youth perspective on what they think and what directions the YMCA should be going in,” she said.

The 3,600-employee YMCA of Greater Toronto also hires 740 young people for day camps and overnight camps.

“They give them skills that they’re not necessarily getting through school or they’re not having opportunities through employment,” said Walker.

The association also offers employment programs to assist youth in the community, such as a four-week Youth Careers Program. Last year, about 150 youth went through and 66 per cent gained employment while 14 per cent returned to school, she said.

And a six-week summer student exchange program for people aged 16 and 17 encourages about 250 people from across the country to work in other provinces.

“We give them meaningful work and they go through training, so that when they’re done the exchange program, they’ve got that on (their) resumé,” said Walker.

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