Alberta’s Best Workplaces 2009

As an employee you've got your own value proposition for the companies you want to work for

Researched by Scott Messenger and Stephanie Sparks

Companies like to talk about the “value proposition” when explaining why you should buy their products. As an employee you’ve got your own value proposition for the companies you want to work for. Perks and incentives, a dynamite benefits plan, a corporate culture that appeals to 20- and 30-somethings – these are all things we considered when judging our Best Workplaces awards, produced in partnership with our sister publication Alberta Venture. Start reading to figure out where you want to work (and how you get a job) at this year’s top shops.


*Best Workplace for Under 100 Employees and Best Workplace for Volunteerism & Community Involvement
Karo Group //

Industry: Marketing services / Locations: Calgary and Vancouver / Employees in Alberta: 48 / Typical jobs: Account managers, project managers, multimedia team (designers and production), graphic designers

Why they won: Back in 1971, around the time many of their staffers were born, Joff and Jürgen Grohne started the tiny Vancouver graphic design firm West Graphika. In the ’80s they did what they’ve done for so many other organizations: they expanded and rebranded. Now they’re a leading image-maker known not just for good design but public service. Karo set itself apart with Karo Kaus. Each year the Calgary wing offers a Creative Services Grant with $50,000 worth of marketing and graphic design services to a local community organization. As president Chris Bedford has explained, “We want to help two organizations develop meaningful brand experiences for their stakeholders and clients – which, in turn, will take them to the next level in attracting public and financial support.”

Highlights: Is your only car a bicycle? On weekends, staff can borrow the company Smart Car. Aside from a friendly team of 24/7 creative types, Karo is home to rooftop beehives and a working industrial elevator that functions as a part-time meeting room. On the community side, the Karo “Tribe” has whipped up campaigns for such groups as Climate Change Central, the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness, and Habitat for Humanity. They also support “creative moonlighting,” says studio manager Melody Taylor. “This year, project manager (and break dancer) Leslie Tettensor is going to Brazil to help disadvantaged girls channel their energy away from the street and into hip hop, graffiti art and DJing.”

Get the edge: Innovative ideas are a given – you’ll be working at what Marketing Magazine voted one of the top creative agencies in Western Canada, after all. To get the edge, come up with “Why didn’t I think of that?” solutions to problems. Karo is looking for people who will fit with the Tribe, so candidates are asked to fill out an online behavioural profile before their interview. Tribe members have degrees from a variety of areas, like marketing, public relations, architecture, arts and communications, along with non-design fields. Planners in the interactive division, for instance, should have a degree in human computer interface or business and experience in areas such as project management and web analytics.

*Best Workplace for 101 to 750 Employees
Agriculture Financial Services Corporation
(AFSC) //

Industry: Lending and risk management/ Locations: 54 branches throughout Alberta / Employees in Alberta: 715 / Typical jobs: account manager trainees (specializing in finance or agriculture), financial and risk management analysts, insurance administrators

Why they won: You don’t get the shockingly low turnover rate of five per cent without putting a lot of thought and effort into retaining employees. AFSC has the strategy down: offer your staff flexible work schedules, provide respectable salary increases (9.1 per cent in 2008) and empower employees (an intranet program to submit ideas to HR is one example). Then there’s the enviable benefit plan that starts not three months after you start, but on your first day, and provides three weeks of vacation in your first year. No wonder AFSC garnered a 90 per cent employee satisfaction rating on a recent internal survey.

Highlights: Maternity leave is topped up to 95 per cent of your salary. AFSC also covers all books and tuition for job-related training, and salaried staff have a $500 “learning and wellness” spending account to go toward fitness equipment, gym memberships or even golf membership for people who think that’s a real sport. For little perks, the company’s social committee doles out coffee and movie vouchers along with annual appreciation awards of $1,000 for three top-performing staff.

Get the edge: With farmers’ needs tied to the capriciousness of weather, new hires need to thrive in a rapidly changing financial environment. They should be eager to learn new things and always ready to shoulder new responsibilities. AFSC’s agricultural niche means that you might want to beef up your commerce degree with some farm studies.

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