Emily Moore never saw herself as a lifer. “If you had asked me, would I still be an engineer 20 years out of undergrad, I would have said no,” she says. As a student at Queen’s University, Moore loved politics and literature. Today, she deals in the world of cutting-edge autoclaves. “What I’ve found,” she says, “is that it is incredibly interesting.” Today, she wouldn’t dream of leaving the world of high pressure sterilizers.
Moore graduated in 1992. She’s now the director of technology development at Hatch; the Mississauga-based engineering firm is one of Canada’s Best Employers, according to Aon Hewitt’s annual survey. Hatch isn’t the only engineering and construction firm on the list. PCL, EllisDon and Graham also ranked among the best of the best. In fact, overall, engineers were found to be more engaged in their work than any other industry in the country.
Part of the reason, says Aon Hewitt’s Neil Crawford, is that engineering firms tend to be well set up for employee ownership. That’s certainly true at Hatch, which is entirely employee owned. That lets the company take the long view, says John Pearson, the firm’s global managing director. Because they’re not focused on quarterly returns, Hatch executives can maintain staffing levels through lean seasons and invest in technology that might not pay immediate dividends. “We’re working on stuff right now that honestly will probably benefit my grandkids,” Pearson says.
There are other, more pragmatic, benefits to employee ownership. By putting their own skin in the game, employees have a chance to see much larger returns, which keeps them more engaged. “It’s nice to say that you have a dental plan, which we do,” says Mark Goldenberg, the senior director of human resources at PCL, in which 80 to 90 per cent of employees own shares. “But at the end of the day, you can accumulate wealth in this company.”
Of course, it’s a big industry, says Crawford. “I think you can find a lot of engineers that aren’t happy and lots of engineering companies that aren’t on the list.” Still, Crawford does believe there is something tangible about the work these companies do that leads to higher engagement.
Moore agrees. “Engineering in general is about seeing your ideas turned into reality,” she says. Whether it’s putting up a new hospital in Edmonton with PCL, or pioneering new mining technology in Africa with Hatch, the work creates a visible end: it satisfies a human desire to leave a mark on the world.
It it also surprisingly creative work, says Nickell Aktarian, an engineer-in-training with CH2M HILL in Vancouver. “I get to come into work every day and know that I’m going to do something cool to solve a problem,” she says.
That focus on problem solving is big at Hatch, says John Pearson. The key to keeping good workers happy, he believes, is to let them do their work the way they see fit. “We operate in an environment of complete trust,” he says. “When you take these clever people and you unleash them in this environment, you get the absolute best out of them.”