David Paslawski was a third-year engineering student when he took a summer job at ASL Paving. After graduating a year later, he was hired on full time as a surveyor for the Saskatoon-based road construction firm. “I got hooked right away,” says Paslawski, who was drawn in by the trust he was afforded, even as a junior, and the professional growth potentiaol he saw for himself at the company. He began climbing the ranks, and now, 31 years later, he’s the president and owner of the business.
“That’s been a hallmark of the company,” Paslawski says, referring to ASL’s tendency to recruit employees from universities and develop them within the firm. Almost all of the general managers at ASL started in entry-level jobs. Many of the project managers and supervisors have likewise risen up at the firm. “[Promising] employees who join us as crew members are identified early on by their foreman,” says Paslawski. “And then we nurture them with additional training and find out if they have a desire to move up.”
The salary bump that comes with each new position in’t the only thing keeping employees at ASL. According to Paslawski, staff stick around (sometimes for 40 or 50 years) because of the autonomy supervisors and upper management afford them. “We really give free rein for people to take chances,” he says. Paslawski recalls an instance where a team working on street maintenance had an idea for a tool that would improve their work. They brought the concept to their managers, who suggested they try developing it. Through a process of trial and error, the employees created a new multi-purpose spade that attaches to the front of a skid steer, which the company now uses regularly.
“We’ve always had an entrepreneurial culture in that way,” explains Paslawski. “We are tolerant of a certain amount of failure to allow people to experiment and prove new things. Through that, people become very devoted and attached to the company.”
Promoting employees rather than hiring from outside also helps sustain the organization’s celebrated culture of highly engaged and loyal staff, which Paslawski says is the firm’s top competitive advantage. “They understand the company; they’re committed to their work and proud of it,” he says. “That’s a difficult thing to hire for. But when you’re exposed to somebody over a period of months and see those qualities in them, you hold onto that.”