The players and the owners get the spotlight whenever the NHL lockout is discussed, but the lack of hockey affects many more people than that. At many teams, the employees that run the organization have been laid off or have had to take pay cuts due to the lack of revenue coming in. But for many of the Oilers staff, secondment to other organizations throughout the city has been a welcome alternative.
“Our biggest and most valuable asset is the people we have recruited and trained,” Oilers President & COO Patrick LaForge told me. “The worst thing you can do is lay people off.” He knows it is not only difficult for the employees, who would have to go out and find new jobs and deal with everything that goes along with that, but also for the Oilers who will still need talented people once the lockout ends.
The Oilers have done two key things to retain staff during the lockout. The first is that the senior executives all took a sizable pay cut, and the difference is used to ensure that all employees who make less than a certain amount of money per year still earn 100% of their salaries. That leaves the folks in the middle, and that’s where the secondment idea comes in. During the last lockout in 2004, a few Oilers employees found temporary homes at other organizations. One of the employees had a connection with the company that suggested the secondment, and the Oilers decided to give it a shot. “This time, everyone was prepared,” Patrick said.
The Oilers currently have 22 employees seconded to other organizations in Edmonton (that’s about 30% of the folks in the middle). Pennock Acheson Nielsen Devaney took six accountants on board, and other employees have gone to Body by Bennett, the Winspear Centre (including Tony Bao, who the Journal and Sun both wrote about), Williams Engineering, West Edmonton Mall, and a number of other local companies and non-profits. The employees stay on the Oilers payroll, earn their full salaries, and retain all of their benefits, and the Oilers simply invoice the companies for part of the employee’s salary. Most employees have two week notice periods with their temporary employers, so if the lockout were to end the Oilers could be back up and running at full capacity in short order.
Regardless of what happens with the lockout, the employees will likely be back with the Oilers full-time in February as the organization ramps up to sell season tickets for the 2013-2014 campaign. But that may not be the end of the secondments; Patrick indicated that the Oilers may explore the idea for the summer too.
There’s a risk that the Oilers will lose some of these people, but it doesn’t seem likely. “It’s about good commerce in the city,” Patrick told me. It certainly does seem like a win-win-win. The employees get to keep their jobs and paychecks, and they’ll be exposed to new ideas and approaches along the way. The employers get to take advantage of some talented individuals, which is a big deal in Edmonton’s tight labour market (it took just ten days to place the 22 individuals). And the Oilers get to retain their employees and will likely experience a jolt of energy and fresh ideas when they all return.
Actually, they’re probably experiencing that already. Every two weeks the team gets together to swap stories and to share the things they have learned. “Having a culture where everyone is learning is important”, Patrick said. While I’m sure the Oilers would rather be in the middle of a season right now, the opportunity for employees to learn new things from other local organizations probably isn’t such a bad thing.
Could this happen in other cities? Sure, but it’s no surprise that it’s happening here. As Todd wrote, Edmonton is “an unusually open city: open to ideas and open to change.” There’s a spirit of collaboration that makes partnerships like the ones the Oilers have forged possible.