Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2016)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 8, 2015)
Here are some of the reasons why Agriculture Financial Services Corporation / AFSC was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2016), Top Employers for Canadians Over 40 (2016) and Alberta's Top Employers (2016):
- AFSC considers previous work experience when setting vacation entitlements for experienced candidates and actively seeks experienced adjusters for their knowledge (with the average age for adjusters being 53 years) -- also helps employees prepare for life after work with retirement planning courses tailored to employees under and over 45, phased-in retirement work options and generous contributions to a defined benefit pension
- AFSC's forward looking "New Graduate Hire Incentive Program" helps new hires who are recent graduates offset the cost of post-secondary studies with annual payments of $1,000 per year, to a maximum of $4,000 over the course of 4 years
- AFSC enrolls new employees into an "Orientation Buddy Program", pairing them with senior personnel, and manages a unique "Farmin' 101" training program for all employees without an agricultural background -- the 2-day program includes classroom training and a bus tour to farm operations and even a stop at a farm equipment dealership
Planting the seeds for a rewarding career
Thanks to the support of her office colleagues, Brandy Szakacs found the strength to complete her rigorous certified general accountancy (CGA) program on time and with top marks. And if her employer, Alberta's Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), had not also paid 100 per cent of her tuition costs, about $30,000 over three years, Szakacs says she would never have made it.
"In order to get my CGA, I first had to finish my management degree from Athabasca," says Szakacs, an AFSC Collection Specialist. "I was taking two to four courses at a time, all while working full time. It was incredibly stressful. I would have given up financially, emotionally and mentally without that support from the corporation and my co-workers pushing me on
"It shows the company is really committed to its employees - and it makes you want to stay around and give back to it and the people we serve. I am very thankful."
At AFSC, everyone is entitled to full tuition support - including books - for courses and programs related to their job. If they need time off to take an exam, variable work schedules allow that to happen. Employees also get three flex days annually that they can use for study purposes.
Educational support is one of several staff programs that has kept the provincial Crown corporation - which provides farmers with crop and livestock price insurance and loans, along with disaster relief, among other assistance programs - on Canada's Top 100 Employers list for eight years running.
"We really believe in staff development," says Human Resources Training Coordinator Judi Churchill. "We want our people to grow and have every opportunity for advancement."
Churchill herself is an example of how one can move throughout the company and up the ranks. She joined the organization's finance department in 1982, moving later to insurance before joining the HR department twelve years ago.
Another successful AFSC professional development measure is an in-house supervisory training program run with the University of Alberta in Edmonton, roughly 125 kilometres north of corporation headquarters in Lacombe. Thirty of AFSC's some 700 employees go through the annual exercise, a key succession planning initiative.
AFSC doesn't just look after its employees while they are on the job. It also helps them plan for life after work by providing retirement planning courses designed for workers of all ages. Phased-in retirement options, along with a defined benefit pension plan, help attract and retain employees.
Another relatively new and popular employee program gives employees a first-hand glimpse of agricultural life. Called Farmin' 101, the two-day session is designed to acquaint newly hired employees with the producers they deal with in the corporation's 46 offices throughout the province. Class time is supplemented with field trips that bring employees face-to-face with the likes of goat-milk farms, beekeepers, a Hutterite colony and cattle ranches, a mainstay of Alberta's agricultural sector. "Those two days brought my job to life," says Szakacs. "I was never a farm kid and didn't know one crop from another before participating."
Besides its innovative programs, Szakacs and Churchill agree that it is management's respect for employees as well as worker camaraderie that makes working at AFSC special. "Our bosses trust and respect the people that work for them," says Churchill. "I feel empowered to make decisions on my own without worrying about being second-guessed. It's a great atmosphere."
This article appeared in the magazine announcing this year's Canada's Top 100 Employers winners, published November 9, 2015 in The Globe and Mail. This article was prepared with the financial support of the employer, which did not write or edit its contents.