Fort McMurray’s waste management and fluid handling market is expanding, which means the company needs truckers, and lots of them. But with every business in the region pulling from the same talent pool, keeping up with demand—and maintaining quality service while doing it—is a tall order. After all, there are only so many people qualified to drive water tankers, deliver 22-foot-long bear-proof Dumpsters, or operate pressurized steam trucks capable of removing grime from industrial equipment.
Birch Mountain Enterprises (BME)—a 100% Indigenous-owned fluid handling company with the largest privately owned fleet in the Fort Mac region—is among the businesses feeling the squeeze. But thanks to a policy of total transparency with employees and clients, and a proactive approach to addressing its talent shortage, it’s achieved 13% growth and whittled its job vacancies to seven—down from 68 this time last year.
“Dramatically improving the human resources side of our business has been a game changer for us,” says CEO and managing partner Chris Wilson. “I think BME’s success this year was a testament to our our ability to turn challenges into opportunities, all while fostering a supportive workplace culture and actively contributing to the well-being of both our team and the communities we serve.”
BME added a full-time HR employee to its cohort, and recruited a third-party agency to analyze and restructure its marketing of open positions. It turns out the ads weren’t hitting the target market, so BME ramped up its on-the-ground presence, making a point to attend as many job fairs and trade shows as possible.
But crucially, BME didn’t just work on putting out feelers in the right places—it invested in growing the talent pool. The company hired a new training officer and implemented a revamped program with dedicated instruction in specific trades like water-truck or vacuum-truck driving. “There are lot of talented young people coming up through the skilled trades, but it takes time to coach and mentor them,” says Wilson. “Our new training program is more in-depth than before, and it targets the vacancies we want to fill. Now, we’re almost fully staffed and have the capacity to take on more work.”
Thriving in a competitive market also meant finding ways to increase profit margins. BME’s approach here was simple: have open, transparent conversations with clients about said margins. Sure, it’s not easy to ask for more money, but BME’s track record—and its strategy of open communication, where it could have introduced hidden fees—meant it didn’t lose a single client in the process.
Its policy of transparency extends to employees. Thorough employee surveys guide management decisions, which in turn bolsters its organizational capacity. When BME noticed significant churn in its maintenance department last year, it relied on surveys to guide its next move, increasing salaries in that department. “We prioritize feedback from our employees, not just to check the box but to make meaningful changes,” says Wilson. Now, BME has virtually no maintenance turnover—a huge boon for business, given market conditions.
“Through transparent communication and the deep understanding of the importance of short-term sacrifices for long-term gains, BME has weathered this past year of industry contraction and uncertainty,” says Wilson. “Our 13% growth rate is delivered straight from the hands of all our employees.”