Best practices: Stuart Olson Dominion Construction Ltd.

A counter-intuitive move for the future

Stuart Olson Dominion Construction Ltd. has developed what it calls its blueprint for workforce development and training that, in many ways, is right out of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA's) best practices manual.

But the approach Stuart Olson Dominion took-called "People. Building. Progress"-saw the company take what could only be described as a courageous leap, by starting to add and train key staff at a time when many others in industry were downsizing in reaction to the recession and the downturn in the Alberta energy industry.

"About three years ago we made a strategic decision to concentrate on people," offers Doug Harrison, executive vice-president of the company. "The industry usually waits until another boom to hire people. We made a strategic decision to hire people, train them and wait for the work to come."

Stuart Olson Dominion has about 500 full-time employees and 700 hourly workers. Its "continuous improvement" approach sees the company offer ongoing in-house training, aimed at project managers, superintendents, tradespeople and others.

Senior managers like Harrison had foreseen what looming skilled labour shortages would do to the construction sector, especially as baby boomers (like himself) retired, and they wanted to train the succeeding generations to fill responsible positions as needed.

The company's "project school" offers a two-day course in leadership skills and other management skills, for instance.

"Because the courses are offered in-house, they can be tailored to our clients' needs," Harrison says.

As a result, as senior managers retire, the company has new leaders to move into their slots.

The company views itself as a value-added contractor, with well-trained staff able to deliver projects on time. It tries not to compete on price alone.

"When you get a dentist do you ask for the lowest-cost one?" Harrison asks.

Stuart Olson Dominion is an institutional, commercial and light industrial contractor, which means it doesn't directly benefit from the emerging oilsands boom.

But, notes Harrison, "Once the oilsands has taken off that leads to the need for schools, more housing and commercial buildings, which is where we come in."

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