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A Canadian Perspective

Combination of hands-on learning, mentors and career planning proves successful in Canada

Tackling the challenge of training in the facilities management and maintenance industry requires passion, commitment, creativity and an abundant source of energy.

At Freshco, an Oakville, Ontario-based retail facilities firm that provides maintenance, project and reconstruction services across Canada and the eastern United States, training is critical for the 76 company employees and 370 technical employees who operate as subcontractors for the company.

“There is no difference in the workforce challenges in Canada and the United States,” said Mandy Rennehan, Blue Collar CEO and Founder of Freshco. As experienced trades people age, there are fewer young people to take their place because they don’t understand the exciting and creative opportunities that exist in retail facilities maintenance and reconstruction industry, she said. “We have to make it fun to come to work and we have to give them the skills to succeed.”

Because Freshco’s training program is designed to teach people who may not have any experience in a trade, Rennehan focuses on hiring employees based on personality and a willingness to learn. “We want people with a real passion to learn and to make a difference in everything they do – even in an industry that is not glamourous,” she explained.

Improving the image of the industry is possible – just look at restaurants and chefs, said Rennehan. “Chefs and those who work in the restaurant industry still work horrible hours for low pay, but television shows about chefs have made the industry attractive to a lot of young people.”

Although she does not foresee numerous reality shows that feature retail facilities techs performing their tasks in timed competitions, Rennehan does point to well-designed training programs as one way to elevate the perception of careers in the trades.

“Our entire training program takes about one and a half years to complete,” Rennehan explained. Only 5 percent of training occurs in the classroom, and the rest is hands-on learning while they work. “Three people watch over and support each new employee,” she said. “This does mean more overhead costs but the only way to develop quality employees is to give them time to learn.”

In addition to giving people a chance to learn a variety of skills, Freshco’s program is flexible enough to let people move into other areas. “We review where they are now, where they want to be in three months, and what skills they need to reach their goals,” Rennehan said. “Because we are a diversified company, there are different avenues each person can explore.” Career planning also extends into the future, with employees identifying two, five and seven-year career goals.

“I believe that it is important to give people a future that they can see,” Rennehan said. Extensive, focused training combined with career planning benefits the company in many ways. Not only are employees more invested in doing their jobs well today, but they are more likely to stay with the company long term. “The company’s investment in our people builds a higher level of trust and transparency, which creates better managers and technicians,” she said. The commitment is important, she added. “We have to build people up to build the future for our profession.”

By: Sheryl S. Jackson

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