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 (2016)
By Kristina Leung and Richard Yerema, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Jan 10, 2016)
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 (2016):
- Great-West Life manages a scholarship and work placement program in partnership with University of Winnipeg for Business Administration or Economics students -- additionally, actuarial and CA students working at Great-West Life may have opportunity to rotate departments or cities, including London, Toronto, Winnipeg
- Great-West Life recruits second and third year accounting students from the University of Manitoba who are interested in pursuing the CPA designation and offers 4-month co-op and summer placements
Great-West Life builds talent with student interns
When opportunity knocked, Kim Fierback answered. In 2011, Fierback was an accounting student at the University of Manitoba doing recruitment interviews with several potential employers when The Great-West Life Assurance Company came calling.
"What stood out with Great-West Life was the diverse range of experience I could have while still a university student," Fierback recalls. "The training program offers optional rotations in a choice of nine different departments. Seeing accounting from multiple angles is pretty rare."
Fierback began at Great-West Life as a CA student intern in 2011, and following graduation from university became a full- time staff member in September 2014. She continues to work toward completing her designation, now known as a CPA.
Great-West Life offers a variety of life, health and disability insurance, retirement savings and investment products, both to individual Canadians and to employees under group benefits plans. The company hired about 1,000 new employees across Canada last year, just over half of whom were under 30. While many have actuarial or accounting backgrounds, a growing number are in IT and other non-financial professions.
"Approximately 15 per cent of our workforce is under the age of 30," says Cathy Weaver, Vice-President of Human Resources, Canada. "We want to continue to build that number. Young people bring new skill sets and new perspectives that we are interested in learning from. They are also our succession planning pool for the future."
As it did with Fierback, Great-West Life often makes its first connection with its future accountants and actuaries at the university level when they do co-op placements at the company. "We provide paying jobs while they are students and give them paid time off to study while they are employed here," says Weaver. The company also provides internships for students in human resources and IT.
Once they're members of the Great- West Life team, new employees are encouraged to continue their education. The company offers in- house training programs, such as leadership development, and also supports external courses on subjects such as insurance basics, group benefits and accounting management. For other career-related external courses, each employee is eligible for a credit of up to $2,000 a year.
The company's commitment to work/ life balance resonates with young employees such as Fierback. Great- West Life offers part-time work arrangements as well as full-time with flexible starting times in the work day.
"During my rotation in the Human Resources Financial Management department, I did a compressed work week for a couple of months, working a bit longer each day in return for an additional day off every two weeks," says Fierback. "It certainly helped me with my studies."
Great-West Life gives employees the opportunity to do more than simply work. Employees can also receive paid time off to volunteer for worthy causes. Fierback and seven of her colleagues recently devoted a day to painting the offices and kitchen of Winnipeg's Pregnancy and Family Support Services, a United Way agency.
The company promotes active lifestyles by sponsoring employee sports leagues, including hockey teams (for both men and women), regular curling bonspiels, and golf tournaments. Employees at three main locations benefit from nominal membership fees at on-site fitness centres, open seven days a week.
Employee wellness accounts, launched in January 2015, can be used to pay for a variety of recreational equipment and activities. The program has reimbursed over $750,000 in employee expenditures so far. Exercise bikes, hiking boots and fitness class fees are typical of the more than 4,000 claims submitted to date.
"Our employees are at different stages of life, so we created a program that is flexible enough to fit their different needs," says Weaver. "We value the contributions of our younger employees, and we're working to make Great-West Life an attractive employer for people at all stages of their careers."