Life Goes On: Thriving and Recruiting During a Pandemic

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“Life goes on,” says Julie Wong, Director of Human Resources at CanWel Building Materials Ltd. “We still have our goals to achieve, even though Covid is here. The goals may need a bit of readjustment and the pathway may be a bit curvy, but the goal is still there.” 

The Vancouver-headquartered building materials wholesale distributor has remained focused, operating within an industry that has seen growth since the onset of the pandemic. 

“With people out of jobs and companies not doing well, you would think that people would be saving their money,” says Wong. “They aren’t. Instead of going on vacation, they are spending on their homes.”

Recruiting During a Pandemic 

In response to this growth CanWel has leveraged their reputation as a top employer to bolster recruiting efforts nation-wide, pairing employee-friendly programs with a reasoned, yet disciplined, compensation structure in an effort to attract top tier candidates. 

After a busy 2020 recruiting year, Wong reports that the pace has reached ‘overdrive’ as the summer of 2021 approaches. “All across Canada, the hiring need is there for all levels,” she says. “This extends from professional positions to the warehouse.”

Although Wong reports a high number of applicants, she says that the real challenge is finding the highly qualified candidates that can meet the ‘CanWel Core Expectations’. 

“These are a set of criteria that exemplifies an excellent CanWel employee,” she explains. “We’re talking about professionalism, behaviour, mental and emotional outlook. These expectations really establish the culture at CanWel.” 

Leveraging Employer Reputation 

Attracting such top talent is a matter of reputation and Wong believes that CanWel’s solid background and strong financial position provide reassurance for a job market that values stability during this period of economic uncertainty. 

“We’re not a fly-by-night operation,” explains Wong. “We’ve been around for 32 years. Candidates can visit our website, research our background, view our annual reports, and see that we’re a growing company.” 

The company’s reputation was further enhanced when they were named one of BC’s Top Employers for 2020. Applying for the distinction was a vigorous process that provided CanWel an opportunity for self-reflection. 

“The process really gave us a chance to review what we currently offered our employees and also to change or enhance what we were doing,” says Wong. “It was wonderful to receive acknowledgement that we were doing a great job in taking care of our employees. You don’t often get that view from outside of the company, allowing you to compare yourself with others.”

Enhancing Employee Benefit Programs

CanWel’s commitment to employee satisfaction has seen the company invest in their workforce’s wellbeing in several ways. With many head office employees commuting from the suburbs to downtown Vancouver, the decision was made to pay for employee parking, helping to alleviate concerns related to riding public transit during a pandemic. 

In addition, the company provides a number of scholarships for the children of their workforce as well as tuition reimbursements for employees that choose to invest in their own professional development. 

Also popular: an employee referral program that sees team members receive $2000 in the event of a successful hire. 

“What’s the best referral for a company?” asks Wong. “It’s your own employees. We’d be happy to pay this money over and over again, if it can help us find good employees.” 

Establishing Compensation 

Of course, monetary compensation still remains top of mind for many in the workforce. According to Wong, CanWel reviews their compensation program on an annual basis or more frequently when market conditions change. 

As Wong explains, the company takes a reasoned, four-tiered approach to setting salaries.

“The first factor is external equity, what other companies are paying,” says Wong. “The second one is internal equity. This addresses the importance of maintaining the pay hierarchy within the company. Thirdly we consider the company’s ability to pay and, finally, the candidate’s skill and the performance level.”

Looking to the Future While Embracing the Present

As an essential business, CanWel was not forced to shut down during pandemic lockdowns, which allowed them to thrive as home renovations soared. Wong acknowledges the difficulties caused by the pandemic, but keeps her eyes on the future. 

“I find that there are individuals who are waiting for this pandemic to finish before continuing with their lives,” she says. “Then there are others that are still continuing their lives, pivoting where necessary, and living each day fully regardless of what’s happening right now. I want the people that work for me to be in the latter category.”

Cited Sources
Personal Communication with Julie Wong 
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Goldbeck Recruiting

Goldbeck Recruiting is a contingency recruitment and executive search firm located in Vancouver, BC. Since 1997, we have been helping companies fill challenging positions that require a unique combination of skills, professionalism, and industry background.

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