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Associations, Labour

Merit Saskatchewan mixes laughs and plaudits for annual awards

Warren Frey
Merit Saskatchewan mixes laughs and plaudits for annual awards

PRINCE ALBERT, SK. – A Saskatchewan construction association is using humor to recognize outstanding employees in the industry.  

Awards recognizing firms and individuals in the industry are nothing new, but Merit Contractors Association Saskatchewan’s humorous and employee-focused approach is unique, president Karen Low said.

“We wanted to be different. It’s a serious recognition but we didn’t want it to be one of the many awards shows where people put on a suit and walk out of the room two hours later not remembering what happened,” Low said.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work in terms of advertising and getting people engaged. Contractors don’t like writing or being in the spotlight. It’s like starting a cold engine in a Saskatchewan winter, but once it gets going it’s so worth doing,” she said.

Unlike many industry awards, the association concentrates solely on employees instead of employers and projects.

“People are recognizing it as a way to acknowledge their employees. They didn’t want to do it at first because it might single out some employees and offend others, but they’re now proud to say they have employees worthy of recognition,” Low said.

This is the seventh awards ceremony, she added, “but it has evolved over the years.”

“We tried to be humorous the first year then went to a more serious tone in the second year and got overwhelming (negative) feedback so we went back to what people were asking for,” she said.

“The first year it was also awards for employers and projects and that was alright, but we thought ‘let’s do something different’ and it’s grown into a tremendous success,” Low added.

Key to the awards are a series of nomination videos sent in by employers and funny introduction videos for each category. This year’s theme put contractors in different roles as florists, nail technicians and other jobs.

“The videos are cheeky in nature, and they went over tremendously well and people remember that as they walk out of the room,” Low said. “What we achieved was a fun memorable vibe, and after seven years you’d think we would have that figured out but we finally hit the sweet spot.”

“Contractors love to laugh, have fun and give barbs to one another and this event rolls that all into one evening,” she added.

In the years since, the awards have grown to over 80 nominations in nine categories, she said, and as Saskatchewan’s construction industry has stagnated, the awards have thrived with a sell-out crowd this year.

“It’s in an inverse relationship to the awards. As the market struggles and employers try to keep up employee optimism, they look to the awards to help do that,” she said.

Low said she has spoken to other provincial associations about adopting a similar tone with their awards.

“We’ve talked to colleagues numerous times, but it takes a while to get off the ground,” she said. “Manitoba has started doing employee awards and modeled their awards after ours but it’s a different flavor and they take it more seriously.”

“What works for us might not be what works in Ontario, but it’s a valuable way to recognize people doing work on the sites,” Low said.


2019 Merit Contractors Association winners:

  • Field Employee of the Year — Jasyn Dergo, Insul Fibre
  • Office Employee of the Year — Evan Wilcox, Quorex Construction
  • Safety Champion of the Year — Emily Wilkinson, ABS Excavating
  • Team Builder — Mo Murphy, Banff Constructors
  • Outstanding Operator — Dustin Smith, JCL Industrial Constructors
  • Outstanding Site Supervisor — Devin Hrywkiw, Alliance Energy
  • Outstanding Apprentice — Shelby Dresher, Saunders Electric
  • Leadership and Mentoring — Doug Lutz, Flyer Electric
  • Merit Employer of the Year — Coram Construction

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