The current business world offers not just a new way of working, but one that is ever evolving. Work from home, hybrid schedules, job sharing, The Great Resignation and most recently, quiet quitting. The conversation about work today seems to focus on spending less time at our desks, finding an alternative to the 9 to 5 workday, and setting boundaries. But what about industries in which most employees work outside the office, and don’t have the option to do otherwise? Industries that rely on technical field staff to deliver services to customers outside of the office. Industries like the fire and life safety industry.
In December 2021, Classic Fire Protection and FCFP, two Ontario-based leaders in fire and life safety services and solutions, officially merged and became Classic Fire + Life Safety Inc. By February 2022, the newly formed company, then home to 470 employees, announced it was embarking on a recruitment campaign with aggressive hiring goals.
In the middle of a pandemic, and almost immediately following a significant merger, the fire safety and protection company managed to grow and onboard 60 new employees by April 2022, and a total of 160 new employees by August of the same year, crushing its own expectations and exceeding its goals.
So how did Classic Fire + Life Safety do it? What's the appeal? Is there a secret sauce or is there an industry resurgence?
Vice President of Human Resources Melissa Diaz was hired in January 2022. Her first order of business? Growing the team.
“When I started, I had no illusions. I knew many industries were struggling to hire quality employees," she says. “Dealing with onboarding, retention and employee engagement is hard enough during a merger—the ins and outs and uncertainties of pandemic and post-pandemic employment were added complexities. I wasn’t sure we would fill the roles we needed to fill.”
Nevertheless, Diaz and her team announced a new recruitment strategy for the business and got to work. Diaz’s next order of business—building a dedicated recruitment team.
“We were lucky: we already had good, qualified members on the HR team, but the structure needed some work. We needed a specialized, dedicated recruitment strategist,” Diaz explains. “Someone who was comfortable with grassroots recruitment, someone who knew the industry and could share our story and let skilled, trained professionals know how great it is to work with us.”
With exceptional customer relationship skills and a can-do attitude at the top of Diaz’s list, Stanley Owah was appointed as the company's first-ever Talent Acquisition Specialist. It is clear today that this newly created position was an integral part of the company’s recruitment strategy, and even clearer that sharing the company’s engaging and supportive employee-based culture made all the difference, especially in the current evolving world of work.
Today, more than ever, companies need to showcase and promote their culture – and this requires the art of storytelling. Job seekers want to know that they are working for a company that aligns with their values and world view. That they are doing work that matters. So, is communicating culture the secret sauce we are looking for? Is it that simple? What about walking the talk?
It became clear after interviewing both recently hired and long-tenured female fire safety technicians, that the company does walk the talk. Diversity and inclusion in the workforce, both in the field and in the office, is no easy task. The industry itself has been male dominated for years. Most women don’t think about a career in fire safety, but Classic Fire + Life Safety works to sustain real change by actively recruiting women, offering training programs for all staff at all levels.
“It’s crazy how I ended up here,” says Emily Taal, Classic Fire + Life Safety’s newest Sprinkler Fitter, and first female in the role. “I never thought I would be doing this and to be one of the few women in the field is an honour, I am thankful to Classic Fire + Life Safety for believing in me and for providing me with the tools, support and training, that got me here. “
Investing in people who are already part of the business is key to the Classic Fire + Life Safety recruitment strategy. It is another way to avoid a narrow point of view. The company can attribute its recent growth to a deep knowledge that working and living your values and respecting employees and leaders already in your family, inevitably attracts more talent. The storytelling starts internally.
“Our employees know we will support them, invest in them, grow their careers and show everyone equal respect,” adds Diaz. “We train, we introduce new avenues and opportunities, we make room for professional and personal development—and the word gets out. Candidates are hearing about our business and seeing opportunities. We receive frequent calls from skilled professionals asking if they can work for us.”
Contact from interested candidates is indeed a badge of honour, a confirmation that they are doing things right. Proving that regardless of the changing world of work, respect and communication is the foundation of a culture that retains and hires the best people and builds successful companies. Classic Fire + Life Safety is a multi-million-dollar business that does important work for clients in a variety of industries, from hospitals to retail businesses, to manufacturing plants, and residential buildings. Attracting and retaining team members who have shared values provides safety for everyone.
This journey, a truly integrated process, begins with strong core values, backed by leadership that understands their responsibilities, the role they play. It’s a service your team members as you would expect them to service your client approach. And it clearly works.
Leadership understands the importance of communication during an acquisition—an approach that was amplified during the pandemic. All are invested in steering everyone in the right direction and every area of the business is reviewed accordingly. And difficult questions have been asked and addressed, including adjusting departments in terms of wages, unified benefits programs covering such elements as sick time and vacation, growing the frequency of employee engagement programs to reduce the us-vs.-them mentality often seen post-merger. And, of course, growing the recruitment strategy to increase new team members to close the gap and build a one-team philosophy.
Process and systems needed to change but more important, consistency and continuity in leadership and communication supported the changes. Employees need to always understand their role and place in the business, that their contributions are vital to the company’s success.
“Consistent leadership is key, and we take every opportunity to communicate and demonstrate that we practice what we preach," continues Diaz. “It is important to recognize the value of admitting to our associates and potential candidates that we are not the exception, that we have growing pains. The difference is, we don’t hide them.”
Walking the talk also includes investing in training programs. Classic Fire +Life Safety is open and transparent about its investment in employee development and communicating its training opportunities and programs with potential candidates.
“Every day, consistently, in everything we do, we demonstrate how the company is stronger post-merger and post pandemic,” continues Diaz. “There is an inherent and genuine interest in the development of our people, in open-door policies, in transparency and celebration, in trust and unity—all this builds an unshakeable foundation, and a solid narrative, both internally and externally, resulting in some of the best people in the business coming together to create a safe place to grow.”
Workplace trends, world challenges, business acquisitions and mergers, industry ebbs and flows—the secret is actually no secret at all. Build a business based on values and respect, share your story, and they will come.