Fostering a Positive Workplace

By SeawayReview  |  Awards, Cargo & Commodities, Operations

Algoma receives top employer accolades, works hard to stay there

Algoma Central Corporation, based in St. Catharines, Ontario, received a high honor at the end of 2023: Algoma was named one of Hamilton-Niagara’s top employers for the second year in a row. The award recognizes Algoma’s dedication to providing an environment where employees can thrive and reach their full potential. The award highlights some top priorities for Algoma – creating an exceptional workplace, fostering a culture of inclusivity, investing in employees’ well-being and workforce development.

Gregg Ruhl - Algoma president and CEO
Gregg Ruhl – Algoma president and CEO

“We are incredibly honored to receive the Top Employer Award again this year,” said Gregg Ruhl, Algoma’s president and CEO. “This recognition stands as a testament of our ongoing efforts to recognize and value our exceptional employees by providing them with a workplace that supports their development and well-being. Their hard work and dedication fuel our commitment to investing in our team, propelling progress, and ensuring Algoma remains an outstanding place to work.”

This year marks another major milestone for Algoma—its 125th year anniversary. Algoma owns and operates the largest marine carrier fleet operating in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway. Additionally, Algoma owns and operates ocean going self-unloading dry-bulk vessels globally and holds 50 percent interests in joint ventures that own a diversified portfolio of dry and liquid bulk fleets. Bulk cargoes include raw materials such as iron ore, grain, salt, cement, gypsum, aggregates and petroleum products.

A Marine Carrier of Choice

Algoma strives to maintain a supportive workplace environment, one that encourages long-term retention, hopefully until retirement. Ruhl emphasized that Algoma and the maritime industry in general offer numerous, fulfilling career opportunities. “At Algoma, a gratifying and dynamic professional journey awaits,” he said. “We take pride in our team members’ choice to be part of our workforce.” Algoma’s business and service motto is to be “the Marine Carrier of Choice” within its industry. A workforce that feels rewarded and motivated is integral to that effort.

The Top 100 award is organized and hosted by Mediacorp Canada, a company that focuses on Canadian private sector employment and publishes and hosts several related resources, such as the search engine Mediacorp editors undertake a comparative review to assess eight criteria among the companies who apply to enter the Top 100 contest. The criteria include categories such as work atmosphere and social, health, financial and family benefits, training and skills development and community involvement.

Algoma was judged to excel in several key areas, including –

  • Employee training and development.
  • Work atmosphere. The award cites Algoma’s commitment to “fostering a workplace where people of all backgrounds feel valued, respected, and included.”
  • Employee engagement and communications.
  • Compensation and Benefits. The award notes Algoma’s competitive compensation, comprehensive benefits, and opportunities for employees to advance in their careers.

Algoma’s award is important for the maritime industry in general because the maritime sector faces numerous workforce development challenges. In a recent roundtable discussion, Algoma’s leadership team was asked about the company’s efforts to highlight the advantages of working at Algoma and to respond to employees’ needs and concerns regarding issues the company can control and change, moves to enhance job satisfaction, and serving to keep people on board. To the extent that Algoma can make maritime work attractive to newcomers and to retain experienced people, that critical awareness can have an industry wide impact.

Ruhl highlighted one core strength: employees want to be part of a successful company. “We’ve survived and thrived,” he said. “We’ve been profitable for the last 70 years. We’ve become a strong and stable company.”

Ruhl said that employees, noting such success, will suggest to others that Algoma is a good place to work. Another feature, he noted, is that transportation is physical, active work that can spark the imagination, especially among younger people. “Our cargo goes from ships to trucks to trains all across the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway system – that’s imaginative to think about and consider,” he added.

Algoma Conveyor
Algoma Conveyor

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is another core focus. For Algoma, Ruhl said that employee diversity has brought diversity of thought and ideas, helping to foster a more innovative, dynamic and inclusive work environment.
A DEI focus also contributes to workforce development, particularly as personnel managers work to respond to major changes in workforce cohorts over the last 15 years. Ruhl noted that his early views on diversity were more weighted towards moral and ethical considerations. “Those remain important,” he said. “But it’s also good for business. Diversity pays off for us.”

Enlisting New Talent

Brooke Cameron
Brooke Cameron

Brooke Cameron, director of fleet personnel for Algoma, said the company recently worked as a partner on a project aimed to help educate students about maritime careers. That project resulted in two videos that provide details about working at Algoma. One shows students “hitchhiking a ride” on the Algoma Conveyor, a transit from the Port of Goderich, Ontario, to Lock 7 in the Welland Canal. The second – “A Day in the Life with Algoma” – gives a closer inside look at daily life and working and living conditions on the Conveyor.

Each video provides a chance to hear from the crew about their work and life on board. At the end, various crew members repeatedly pose a question to viewers: “Are you ready to seek new adventures?” Then a final question, with a twist, from a young seafarer who led part of the video tour: “Are you ready to sail with Algoma?”

The videos highlight important issues for people considering working aboard a vessel. The individual sleeping quarters are shown, which are like college dorm rooms. There’s no shortage of personal conveniences like improved Wi-Fi with Starlink Maritime installed across the domestic fleet, food is not a worry and, of course, there are plenty of chances to see new places.

Cathy Smith
Cathy Smith

Cathy Smith, vice-president of human resources said that Algoma is constantly looking at new issues important to employees and always evaluating new employee-focused efforts. She noted that while the company’s goal to be “the carrier of choice” might be for the customers, it is also for employees both current and future. She referenced the difficult maritime workforce recruitment issues across the Great Lakes and Canada. “We need to hire skilled people,” she said. “This (maritime) is a niche environment.” Leadership knows that a career at sea might not be for everyone but emphasizes that it is a rewarding career, providing opportunities to develop and grow with the company. Programs and activities to counter at-sea challenges and keep morale high are always under review.

In 2023, Algoma conducted its second employee engagement survey since 2020, an effort to get direct employee feedback on workplace issues, improvements, and successes. For Algoma, employee voices are crucial and can significantly influence decision-making and efforts to create a workplace where everyone can contribute, make a difference and feel recognized. Staying connected to their employees remains an active priority for Algoma.

Algoma Strongfield (Photo by Mike Black PhotoWorks)
Algoma Strongfield (Photo by Mike Black PhotoWorks)

Ruhl and Smith said the surveys revealed that employees felt positive about working for Algoma and overall job satisfaction was high. Algoma is committed to addressing any issues in the survey to continue to grow and earn employee trust. As a result, Algoma’s internal communications have increased.

Ruhl said another high priority has been to get Internet service on each vessel, a project that he said has taken 10 years to complete. This was a significant investment, not critical for vessel operations. But Ruhl and Smith said it is critical for what employees want and expect in 2024. Reliable Internet access and Wi-Fi help with separation from friends and family. Streaming services allow the kind of off-duty downtime that’s expected these days. During the video tour of the Conveyor, in the recreation lounge, the guide, points out a large TV in the crew lounge, and explains that each employee is provided with Internet cards providing 40GB per month and that “we can stream whatever we want.”

At Algoma, fostering an inclusive and rewarding work environment is not just a goal; it’s a fundamental part of the company’s identity “We believe that diversity is a source of strength and innovation,” Ruhl said. “We are committed to creating a workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their ideas and bring their authentic selves to work.”

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