Recognized as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2017)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Nov 6, 2016)
Here are some of the reasons why Great-West Life Assurance Company, The was selected as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers (2017) and Manitoba's Top Employers (2017):
- Great-West Life encourages ongoing employee development through in-house training programs (including apprenticeship opportunities), tuition subsidies for courses taken at outside institutions (including general interest courses) and subsidies for professional accreditation
- Great-West Life takes a holistic approach to employee well-being through a wellness spending account that can be used for mental health, physical health and fitness related activities, and offers subsidized access to an impressive onsite fitness facility at its head office
- In addition to helping employees save for the future, Great-West Life offers retirement planning assistance, phased-in work options and health benefits that extend to retirees (with no age limit)
At Great-West Life, the learning never ends
When Justin Cameron joined Great-West Life in Winnipeg about 13 years ago, he had acquired a skill set from the University of Manitoba that the company had a special need for at the time.
"I'd studied Smalltalk Development language in school," says Cameron, a graduate of the university's computer science honours program. He used this computer language when he joined Great-West to develop and refine an insurance illustration application that was in need of an overhaul.
Since then, Cameron has continued his education, mainly through internal educational and learning modules, which Great-West offers to its approximately 12,000 employees to help them advance.
"Educational development activities are a big part of what brought me in to the company," says Cameron, now a Senior Systems Architect, "and they're a big part of the reason I'm still here."
Celebrating its 125th year in business in 2016, Great-West is a leading Canadian insurer with interests in life insurance and health insurance, investment, retirement savings and reinsurance business.
Growing from a Western Canadian insurance company with a focus on farmers and retailers into a multinational financial organization, Great-West has depended heavily on the quality of its employees.
"Our commitment to employee development is critical," says Cathy Weaver, Great-West's Senior Vice-President of Human Resources. "Enhancing skills strengthens us as an organization. No company can have such a long and stable history without good employees."
From hiring selectively to enabling advancement through the company, Great-West encourages employees to develop capabilities that extend far beyond an individual's immediate job. Employees can take advantage of in-house training programs, tuition subsidies for courses taken at outside institutions, including general interest courses, and subsidies for professional accreditation.
Cameron, for example, joined Great-West as a junior developer, but quickly advanced to a senior developer position, then went into testing and analysis before he became a senior systems architect. Along the way, he developed his technology-related skills, but he also studied negotiating, critical thinking and resource management strategy.
"You can't survive on hard skills alone," he says. "It's important to build your soft skills, as well. They're super-important."
Almost every employee at Great-West receives training in a particular job. But almost 40 per cent of employees also take in-house or external courses to enhance their skills in areas such as leadership, communications and negotiating, while another third pursue continuing education courses on their own time but with financial assistance from the company at a local college or university.
"This is a large organization," says Weaver, who first joined a Great-West subsidiary, London Life, over three decades ago, after working there as a summer student. "There are lots of opportunities for growth."
Weaver was following in the footsteps of her father, who also worked for the company for 30 years. "Family relationships are not uncommon here," she says. "Over our history, one generation often follows another into the company."
Once they join, the onus is on the employee to choose a path through the company. "But we get lots of support and encouragement," says Cameron.
"Every year, I work with my career centre leader to build a professional development plan that extends over the next year," he says. "Then we figure out how to get there. We assess the time, funding and courses involved. And along the way, we measure the result."
Cameron reached one of his milestones when he became a senior systems architect about a year ago. "Now I have further milestones," he says. "But none of this would have been possible without the courses available here at Great-West."
Recognized as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2017)
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Jan 9, 2017)
Here are some of the reasons why Great-West Life Assurance Company, The was selected as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2017):
- Great-West Life recruits actuarial students for summer co-op opportunities each year, and provides paid time off to study, subsidies to help cover the costs of study materials and exam fees, and opportunities to rotate departments or cities, including London, Toronto and Winnipeg
- In partnership with the University of Winnipeg, Great-West Life manages a scholarship and work placement program for business administration or economics students -- additionally, the organization recruits second and third year accounting students from the University of Manitoba who are interested in pursuing the CPA designation for 4-month co-op and summer placements
- Great-West Life manages a unique Portfolio Management Training program to train and develop employees for key portfolio management responsibilities -- the 27-month program includes rotations in equities, fixed income, commercial mortgage and investments and investment accounting, and students with a Bachelor of Commerce and an interest in investment are encouraged to apply
Great-West Life: One company, many career paths
Thomas Lai recognized the opportunities for young people at Great-West Life long before he'd completed university.
Graduating from high school, Lai was awarded a Great-West Life scholarship to study business at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to covering tuition and educational expenses, the scholarship provided Lai with a chance to work for the company as a summer intern.
"My relationship with the company guided my course selection," says Lai, now Associate Manager in Great-West's Group Insurance operations. "It gave me direction and helped me to develop the skills I'd need when I graduated."
And that was just the beginning. Specializing in marketing, Lai graduated in the spring of 2011 and joined Great-West that July as a business analyst. Since then, he has advanced into a management position as he develops his skills, with Great-West's support, through training programs and workshops, including three certification courses delivered by the Life Office Management Association.
With more than 12,000 employees across Canada, Great-West not only attracts younger people like Lai with post-secondary scholarships but also supports them after they join the company by helping them explore opportunities and develop a personal career path.
"We value the energy and new ideas of our younger employees," says Stefan Kristjanson, President and Chief Operating Officer, Canada. "It's part of our strategy to make Great-West Life an employer of choice for people at all stages of their careers."
"Recent graduates usually have a general idea of a career path, but at Great-West they see a wide variety of ways they can go," says Michael Embury van Wyk, Manager of Talent Sourcing & Onboarding. "The company helps them with their personal and career development. And they can even try something new, in a supportive environment."
As Lai has discovered, the opportunities for advancing through Great-West come as much from informal contacts as from prescribed programs and courses. Participating in company-sponsored soccer, hockey and curling leagues, he has met many fellow employees from other areas of the company.
"You get to meet people who can help your career," says Lai. "You get to know them and see how they've grown and progressed in their careers and personal lives."
Now that Lai has embarked on his own journey at Great-West, he helps encourage students from the University of Winnipeg to follow his example. As an informal mentor, he meets students when they work as summer interns and keeps in touch with them throughout the school year, offering advice on courses and focus of study.
"I tell students that within Great-West there are many areas to get into," he says. "You can grow, advance, change directions, all within the same organization, so you never have to move elsewhere and break your connection with the company."
As a large insurance company, Great-West recruits its share of actuaries, accountants and financial analysts, but it also seeks out promising new employees in a wide variety of fields.
"When you think of an insurance company you think of finance-oriented people," says Embury van Wyk, "but we employ people in all kinds of positions across the spectrum, from landscape designers and culinary arts graduates to nurses and IT professionals.
"It really takes a village to run an organization this large," he says.
Embury van Wyk says many younger employees like Lai appreciate that the company emphasizes its corporate social responsibility and encourages employees to get involved in the community as volunteers, either individually or as part of teams supporting organizations like the United Way or Habitat for Humanity.
"The customer is at the centre of what we do," says Embury van Wyk, "and ultimately, happy, healthy, engaged employees will provide the customer with a better experience."