C-Suite View – Securing Talent in Ottawa’s Thriving Economy
Securing top talent in an Ottawa economy that is firing on all cylinders presents challenges to local employers, but stiff competition for the best and the brightest talent from both government and the private sector yields benefits.
For example, many employers that haven’t traditionally been involved in the same search for professional talent as the accounting firms are seeking, now are, says Robert Rhéaume, a partner with BDO Canada LLP in Ottawa.
But that is good news for the Ottawa business community overall because “a lot of very vibrant new companies and industries are looking for top talent, and are offering some very good positions with bright futures,” he explains.
“We spend a lot of time striving to be the hospitality employer of choice,” says Ross Meredith, general manager of The Westin Ottawa, part of the Marriott International hotel chain. “We firmly believe that if we can create the right environment to work in that we are going to be able to recruit and attract employees easier and retain them longer.”
Knowing that members of the millennial generation, for instance, want to feel that they are making a difference on the job, Westin Ottawa’s management team actively solicits and welcomes their feedback and input into how it can deliver a better guest and associate experience every day.
“We stress that everyone contributes to the hotel’s overall success,” says Meredith.
“We have very specific values, beliefs and actions that we expect of our leaders, and we incorporate this into talent recruitment,” says Rhéaume, who notes that BDO is more than just an accounting and taxation firm.
“We offer HR services. We offer consultation services. We have people that do mergers & acquisitions and people that do business valuations. We offer a large selection of services. That creates opportunities, because different individuals will want to do different things with their career.
“We want to provide an environment where employees have the ability to succeed both professionally and in their personal lives,” says Rhéaume, adding that contemporary employees are also factoring work-life blend opportunities into the decision about where they want to work.
To attract and retain top talent, BDO offers employees the flexibility to sometimes work from home, as well as flexible work hours to accommodate, for instance, the needs of parenting a young family.
A lot of very vibrant new companies and industries are looking for top talent, and are offering some very good positions with bright futures.
BDO also offers the incentive of overseas opportunities. “If somebody wanted to work in France or Germany or in the U.K. for example, we have a program that allows our personnel to work in different areas throughout the world within the BDO network,” says Rhéaume.
Another key talent attraction is that BDO has, on average, only five to six employees per partner. This provides opportunities for closer mentorship, explains Rhéaume.
Westin Ottawa has used several strategies in the current recruiting environment, including offering flexible work hours, making jobs attractive to people from non-hospitality backgrounds, and providing first-employment opportunities to underprivileged individuals aged 30 and under through involvement in The Prince’s Trust charitable organization.
Westin Ottawa is in constant touch with local universities and colleges in search of the best talent available, particularly students in the hospitality program at Algonquin College. “We’re trying to recruit them for part-time work while they’re going to school. Then on the completion of their schooling, there may be a different opportunity for them in a leadership role to kick-start their career,” says Meredith.
Rima Aristocrat, president and chief executive officer of Willis College, is on the front lines of training and equipping students with the skills needed for Ottawa to thrive in global competition. Students at the adult learning institution, many of whom are already well credentialed professionals, focus on gaining practical experience.
“Willis College works very closely with our industry partners to ensure our curriculum is ahead of the curve,” says Aristocrat, who stresses that academic collaboration with industry is the wave of the future.
“Today, given the current crisis of skills gaps, it demands that we are more innovative and targeted by using a private/public/industry learning partnership. Willis College, the University of Ottawa, and MindBridge have partnered up to address the skills gaps that are necessary to grow successful Canadian companies,” she elaborates.
Aristocrat is also the founder of the Willis Cyber Security Academy, which trains students to gain expertise with cyber security issues, including cyber security defence, which is a critical element of business today. She is particularly proud that since this program was introduced in 2013 more women have been encouraged to join. As an added incentive, the Academy has established an annual ‘Women in Technology’ scholarship worth $24,000.
Willis College also has a strong business program, employing what they refer to as a ‘Lion’s Den’ approach. This is similar to the format on the TV show ‘Dragon’s Den,’ under which students develop and pitch a business plan. Industry leaders assess that work and offer constructive criticism.
“Some of our graduates have made use of the ‘Lion’s Den’ business plans and opened some very successful businesses already,” says Aristocrat.
Business opportunities abound in the city.
Westin Ottawa offers various careers. In addition to positions that interact directly with guests, fields that include sales, marketing, event management, accounting, engineering, security and human recourses are other important sides of the business, notes Meredith.
Professionals with BDO acquire in-depth knowledge, through technologically advanced training focused on digital transformation, about many different businesses in many different industries. “We provide our people with the skills and competencies they need to grow and succeed now and in the future. The world is changing at a rapid pace, and it is important that training stays up to date,” Rhéaume emphasizes.
Rapidly changing technology is playing a role in improving the guest’s experience at Westin Ottawa, “but at the end of the day, it’s still the people in the building that execute on those requests that are the key drivers for change. I truly believe we have one of the best hotel teams in Canada and therefore are able to exceed our guest experience expectations,” says Meredith.
He notes that Westin Ottawa opened in 1983, and still has about 20 original employees on staff.
“It’s a great story. So many people have joined our organization over the years and enjoyed prosperous careers, raising wonderful children who have gone on to become contributors to the community.
“So now there is the next generation of associates we want to hire,” Meredith says.