Western named among nation's elite employers

By Jason Winders
October 24, 2013

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Top 100Illustration by Frank Neufeld

For the first time in the competition’s history, Western counts itself among Canada’s Top 100 Employers.

Now entering its 14th year, the Canada's Top 100 Employers project is a national competition to determine which employers lead their industries in offering exceptional workplaces for their employees. The list was announced by MediaCorp Canada on Monday.  

“Our faculty and staff deserve the credit for this honour,” said Amit Chakma, Western president. “One of the most attractive things about working at Western is the opportunity to work with the best, and be a part of teams that provide a high quality global education and conduct research that has impact around the world.”

The list features some familiar organizations, but also many new winners – including Western – with more than a quarter of the list changing each year. With 4,700 full-time and 8,700 part-time employees, Western joins 3M Canada as the only honoured employer based in London; 45 of the 100 employers call Ontario home.

“As the years go by, I am increasingly of the view that it really comes down to a question of leadership,” Richard Yerema, author of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, said of what it takes to make – and stay on – the list. “Winning organizations consistently have leaders who recognize the importance of becoming an employer of choice, making it part of their organization’s DNA from the shop floor to the boardroom.”

The Canada’s Top 100 Employers competition is the largest editorial project of its kind in Canada, with thousands of employers taking part in each year’s application process.

To create the list, MediaCorp Canada examined the recruitment histories of more than 75,000 employers across the country that it tracks for its job-search engine, Eluta.ca. From this initial group, editors invited 25,000 employers to participate in the competition. Employers completed an extensive application process that included a detailed review of their operations and Human Resources practices, comparing them to others in their industry and region.

Judges Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada staff editors, cited a number of the reasons why Western was selected including:

  • New mothers and fathers receive maternity and parental leave top-up payments (to 95 per cent for 17 weeks), including adoptive parents;
  • Employees can take advantage tuition support for courses at one of Canada’s most celebrated universities, from $4,000 to unlimited per year, depending on their employee group;
  • Mothers can apply to extend their maternity leave into an unpaid leave of absence and can take advantage of an onsite daycare centre operated by the YMCA;
  • New employees receive three weeks of starting vacation as well as receiving additional time off over Christmas and the New Year;
  • Employees and faculty are encouraged to keep fit with subsidized memberships to the impressive 160,000-square-foot recreation centre, the largest of its kind at a Canadian university; and
  • With a focus on the longer term, new employees can participate in free retirement planning sessions and receive contributions to a defined contribution pension plan.

In addition to the comments, each employer is graded by Mediacorp Canada editors on eight key areas; the same eight criteria have been applied since the first edition.

For Western, the judges gave the university the following marks: Physical Workplace, rated exceptional (A-plus); Atmosphere and Communications, rated very good (B-plus); Financial Benefits and Compensation, rated very good (B-plus); Health and Family-Friendly Benefits, rated above-average (A); Vacation and Personal Time-Off, rated very good (A); Employee Engagement, rated very good (B-plus); Training and Skills Development, rated exceptional (A-plus); and Community Involvement, rated very good (B-plus).

Only five universities – Western, Dalhousie, Simon Frasier, New Brunswick and the University of Toronto – made the cut for Canada’s Top 100 Employers. With the exception of Western, all the universities appeared on last year’s list.

Founded in 1992, Mediacorp Canada Inc. is the nation’s largest publisher of employment periodicals and guides. For 15 years, the Toronto-based publisher has managed the annual Canada’s Top 100 Employers project, which includes 20 regional and special-interest editorial competitions that reach more than 13 million Canadians through a variety of magazine and newspaper partners.

To learn more, visit uwo.ca/topemployer.

KogonJason Winders, Western News

THE VETERAN

Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry professor Stanley Kogon, MSc’70 (Pathology), never expected to be a lifelong academic.

In the mid-1960s, Kogon completed his DDS at the University of Toronto and moved to London on the advice of a cousin to take over a successful dental practice. After two years in the office, he started teaching dental histology part-time – working “only one page ahead of the students” – in Western’s Anatomy Department in 1967.

That would be the first of many Western opportunities Kogon would say ‘yes’ to over the next half century. “Turns out, that was a bit of serendipity there,” he said.

A love of that first teaching experience led him to graduate school at Western. He finished his master’s degree in Pathology in 1970, and was hired on full-time by the university before he convocated. “And I just stayed. It was a young school; I was young; I grew with the school,” he said. “I threw the dice and came up sixes.”

With an official start date of Nov. 1, 1967, Kogon is the longest-serving university employee, ahead of legendary Mustangs coach Bob Vigars in Kinesiology, who started at the university in Sept. 23, 1968. Kogon’s career has seen him take on numbers position inside the classroom and administration, including serving as the director of Schulich Dentistry from 1998-2003.

“When I started teaching part-time, I never in my world thought I would be director of the school,” he said. “I couldn’t even imagine it. But those opportunities came, and I took them. I’m pretty lucky.”

Seizing on those opportunities and challenges early on has been a key to his longevity at Western, Kogon said.

“The university has offered me an opportunity to express myself professionally and academically and grow with this place,” he said. “That’s not always the case for someone who is dropped in their 40s or 50s. I have been able to evolve with the place.”

Kogon has taught every student who has graduated from the dental school. It’s a point of pride for his career. “That is almost 2,000 students now, and they’re all over the world,” he said. “Whatever influence I have had it’s that when I see them after they have graduated – some now have their own children who have become dentists as well – it is a really satisfying feeling.

“I don’t know what my actual influence is, but to see you have touched upon them in one way or another, that is the thing I am moved by most.”

DesarmeauJason Winders, Western News

THE ROOKIE

Stephanie Desarmeau was looking for something different. Most recently at a local TD Bank branch, she searched a number of places for her next career step, and Western had always appealed to her.

“I wanted a company similar to TD in terms of its reputation in the community, and its community involvement,” Desarmeau said, “as well as compensation.”

Answering an online advertisement for the position, she applied and, after an interview process, got her current job as a faculty assistant with Western professor Paul Beamish’s Asian Management Institute in the Ivey Business School. Desarmeau started on Aug. 29, and is one of Western’s newest employees.

In her first few days, she has opened the faculty’s new $110-million Richard Ivey Building, rubbed elbows with Canadian astronaut Cmdr. Chris Hadfield, bid one dean farewell and another welcome. Not a bad start. “I’m new, so I don’t know anything else beside this beautiful place,” she said with a laugh.

But beyond the glitter of her first weeks, the personal aspects of the job keep her hopeful for the future.

“The people here are so knowledgeable, and just incredible in their field,” she said. “It’s quite an honour to work here.”

CoupleJason Winders, Western News 

THE COUPLE

Anabel Quan-Haase and J. Bruce Morton always knew the hunt wouldn’t be easy.

“For academic couples, that’s the No. 1 challenge – finding jobs at the same university – when making choices about where you are going. First off, it’s having that academic fit, but then also finding that fit for two people,” Quan-Haase said.

Morton finished his PhD first, and hit the job market with eyes not only on academic excellence, but family accommodations. In 2002, he landed a position with Western’s Department of Psychology; Quan-Haase, who finished her PhD soon afterward, followed in 2004 with a position cross-appointed in Western’s Department of Sociology and Faculty of Information and Media Studies.

The couple, who met in 1996 at the University of Toronto, understand what happened to them is rare – both members of the family landing top-tier academic jobs in their given fields at a top university.

“I would say it just doesn’t happen most of the time,” Morton said.

They credit both the faculty union and university administration for going out of their way to facilitate an environment conducive to their family.

“There are many things that make it a good place to work, over and above the fact academically it’s a great climate to come to work and enjoy every day,” Morton said. “There’s both a supportive union and a constructive and forward-looking administration that combined make it a hospitable environment for us.

“Their combined forces make our life pretty easy to live.”

At Western, Morton said the issue of faculty recruitment and retention is taken seriously.

“They know that goes a long way toward retaining people who are happy, productive and capable of balancing personal and professional obligations,” he continued. “I think Western has done yeoman’s services on those kinds of issues.”

 EssexJason Winders, Western News

THE GENERATIONS

No matter what they tell you, neither Christopher nor Alek Essex helped build the Western residence sharing their name, Essex Hall. And believe me, they will try.

“We’re always very interesting in trying to get the students at Essex Hall to give us Essex Hall swag. In the old days, they thought it was really great to truck us out. But not the current generation,” Chris said dropping a heavy hint.

Despite the fact “not a dime” of Essex Family money went to building the residence – named after the region, by the way – the two men added to the university’s rich tradition this summer when the father and son became Western faculty colleagues.

A London native, Chris Essex, BSc’76 (Honors Astronomy), attended Western as an undergrad, and then saw his academic career take him across Canada and the United States. “To be honest, we didn’t expect to ever return to London,” he said.

But the Applied Mathematics professor did just that when a faculty opening lured him to Western in 1984. In tow on that move from Toronto was his toddler son, Alek, a future Electrical and Computer Engineering professor.

Alek, BESc’04 (Computer Engineering), grew up on campus, playing in the halls around his father’s office. And perhaps something rubbed off.

In the 1980s, the Applied Math Department shared a building with the Faculty of Engineering. There, Alek was first exposed to computers, using them, tinkering inside of them, when the university started bringing in the devices for faculty. Alek found himself using the Internet long before the Internet was the Internet.

“When you grow up in a geeky environment like this, it is sort of contagious and infectious, and I think that’s a large part of why I ended up going in this direction,” Alek said. “It was a fun environment to grow up in.”

When he arrived at Western as a student – in the second year of Essex Hall, built in 1997 – Alek avoided his father’s classroom by agreement. But that didn’t matter as many of his friends reported back. “I would be riding the bus home and have to hear about some of the crazy things he did in class,” he laughed.

Despite the fact the father and son became Western colleagues this summer, when Alek joined the university, don’t expect dad to accept it right away.

“Give me a year or two and I’ll tell you what it’s like to be colleagues,” he laughed. “We’re taking long time scales, decades, for this kind of thing to sink in for a father.”























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