Growth in a time of pandemic
Pomerleau values carry it through difficult times—and its ever more sophisticated approach to recruitment means growth doesn’t stop
During the COVID-19 crisis, when most of the world hit the pause button, this construction company is still going strong. An employer brand campaign launched in fall 2019 showcasing the tagline Your talent will shape our story, moves into its second iteration just weeks after construction sites resumed full activity.
Phase two of the campaign refers overtly to the pandemic without naming it, emphasizing Pomerleau’s ability to turn on a dime in uncertain times. Reference is made to work stoppage, confinement and the new normal of wearing masks—all within the framework of Pomerleau’s values of adaptability and innovation and its mission of redefining construction.
“The goal of the campaign is two-fold,” said Isabel Pouliot, Pomerleau’s Vice President, Human Capital. “First and foremost, we want to thank our people for their resilience and dedication. It’s a two-way street—and through the pandemic, our employees have shown that they care as much about Pomerleau as we care about them,” she explained. “Secondly, we wanted the campaign to illustrate that this is a human organization that truly lives its values—they’re not just words on a page.”
Pomerleau, like many companies throughout the pandemic, had to put many of its activities on hold. Some construction sites were ground to a halt. But that didn’t mean that people lost their jobs or that recruitment stopped. In fact, Chief Executive, Talent, Culture and Leadership Francis Pomerleau claims there has been a silver lining. “The COVID-19 crisis emphasized the importance of communication. There was a high level of anxiety among employees—like so many businesses, we were in uncharted territory,” he explained. “If ever there was an occasion to be open and transparent and to communicate often, this was it. We were clear about the things we did know as well as the things we didn’t know. We got to live our values—and show the love that’s part of our charter,” he added.
The thing about a crisis is that everyone shows their true colours. “You invest so much in building a culture and in building real teams, you don’t want to let that go. We realized that employees really care for us—and we understood that if we trusted them, they would do what’s right. In a nutshell, there is increased trust all around,” Pomerleau said.
The company was able to maintain employment for most of its staff. There were programs put in place that instilled reduced salaries for a short period but hiring continued—because growth continued. New projects would ramp up when sites opened again—and the company’s solid pre-COVID backlog was in great part maintained. New projects include a building in Shawinigan that will house Canada Revenue Agency activities, a building in Montreal for GMP Biomanufacturing Royalmount, both of which are facilities for Public Works and Government Services Canada; a residence on University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus; and a civil and infrastructure project for the Port of St. John. “We knew the industry would start up quickly,” commented Pomerleau, “as construction is an important economic driver. We never stopped attracting, hiring and training the right people to provide the best service.”
And despite the lockdown period, Pomerleau supported growth in other ways. “We’re always growing our people,” Francis Pomerleau said. “That never stops.” Between onboarding, training for high potential individuals and superintendents, online programs, coaching and mentoring initiatives and the new Pomerleau training program, PX3, the company has invested more than $6 million in the entire employee growth ecosystem. “We’ve cut—by half—the time it takes to develop a top project manager or estimator. It’s a massive internal effort to fuel our own development,” he explained.
“We want and need to hire in a proactive way,” said Isabel Pouliot. “What that means is we go after the people we’ll need in six months, or in a year. It’s a mindset—a very innovative, forward-thinking way of looking at hiring.”
After a reflective pause, Pouliot added, “We are a construction company, yes, but we are sophisticated. More and more so, in fact. And that means more sophisticated in our approaches to building teams. We’re refining the process of forecasting our own needs. So, we’re not going to let good, talented individuals get away if we know we’ll need them down the line.”
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