Success starts with 'in-your-face training'

Success starts with 'in-your-face training'

How Clark Builders supports NAIT students and invests in the future

Real skills for real jobs for real people. That’s what Clark Builders is looking for when the company is recruiting. It gets many of those good people from NAIT.

“It’s not to say there isn’t a need for academic research to underpin the construction industry,” Clark Builders president and CEO Paul Verhesen explains. That’s another crucial financial investment, but the company really values employees who are ready to get to work the moment they graduate.

“Our job is then to give them the opportunity to establish rewarding careers,” says Verhesen, predicting NAIT graduates from the last 10 years will also be the next generation of general contractors.

The company likes the fact that NAIT students are immersed in an intensive educational experience.

"It’s two years of in-your-face training."

"It’s two years of in-your-face training,” he explains. “That teaches them how to think and prepares them for careers at Clark Builders where they’ll be challenged right from the outset to learn many new skills on the job.”

Building strong industry relationships

Clark Builders isn’t just a passive recipient of NAIT’s construction graduates. For many years, the company’s employees have been members of several program advisory committees, making sure instructors have a good sense of industry’s needs. That’s been very important, says Verhesen, who took over the leadership reins at Clark in 2011. Among NAIT’s real strengths is its strong links with industry.

It was a natural next step for Verhesen to volunteer as a member of the cabinet for Essential: The NAIT Campaign. His role, along with the other members, was to help build bridges with potential new donors.

Clark Builders has supported NAIT with donations since 2002. In 2009, the company pledged $300,000 to the School of Skilled Trades and $200,000 for the new Centre for Applied Technology (CAT).

Paul Verhesen

“If you do donate, you want to see results. At NAIT, you get a real sense that those dollars are focused on the delivery of education.”

“We give back to organizations and in the communities in the places where we operate,” he explains. “If you do donate, you want to see results. At NAIT, you get a real sense that those dollars are focused on the delivery of education.”

Clark Builders helps build NAIT

Clark Builders helped build CAT, the largest capital project in NAIT’s history with 555,000 square feet of space for programs in business, health and life sciences, and applied sciences and technology. The company is also building the  Productivity and Innovation Centre (PIC), scheduled to open later this year.

PIC will be NAIT’s first building focused specifically on meeting the needs of industry with applied research centres, productivity training and consultations, as well as acceleration services and state-of-the-art equipment and testing to support industry partners’ shared drive to become more competitive.

Like many leaders in the business community, Verhesen is keenly interested in seeing polytechnics like NAIT work with industry. Construction — like so many other sectors of the economy — is dealing with new technology and models of doing business. Those that adapt will survive; those that don’t will go out of business, he says.

Clark invests in its people

 “You can choose to change or you can be forced to change. The construction industry is waiting to be forced to change.”

In the old days, Verhesen explains, all you needed to do was outbid local competitors. Today, competition is international, including firms in China that own the entire supply chain. Traditionally, general contractors have been responsible for budgets, safety, schedules and the quality of the work. So what’s stopping someone from creating a mobile app that challenges that model? he asks.

Oil at $100 a barrel hides a lot of sins, he says. As a result of the good times, the construction industry hasn’t really embraced productivity initiatives—although it has done very well in the province. Why would we change? he asks.

“We are, after all, in the people business and you invest in your assets — skills. Yes, it’s a cost, but it’s also an investment.”

He points out that there are innovators out there. “We should be masters of our own destiny,” says Verhesen, leading with innovative new methods and selling those ideas to clients.

In 2012, Clark Builders took a bold leap forward and entered a partnership with Turner Construction Company, giving Clark much-needed management and financial resources. Turner bought 51% of Clark, with the company’s employees retaining a 49 percent stake. “Turner added some financial horsepower,” explains Verhesen.

Today the company — with approximately $800 million in revenues annually — invests in what it calls “Clark Builders University.” It’s a program of continuous learning for its employees to improve soft and hard skills.

“We are, after all, in the people business and you invest in your assets — skills. Yes, it’s a cost, but it’s also an investment.”

Clark Builders has recently created its own foundation, which will focus primarily on education and the development of future leaders. Clark is in the people business, he says, and so the foundation will give people “a hand up not a hand out.”

Published on April 2, 2018