It's rare to find a company whose employees have a high level of pride in what they do, and enjoy coming into work every day to do it.
Bombardier Transportation in Thunder Bay is one of those companies.
With more than 1,100 employees, Bombardier Transportation is considered a global leader in building bi-level railway coaches and buses.
“There's a tremendous amount of pride for that particular platform,” said George Gasbarrino, director of human resources in Thunder Bay.
Products made at its northwestern Ontario facility are on the rails with four different transit commissions across North America, from GO Transit in Toronto to SunRail in Florida.
Next year, Bombardier Thunder Bay will celebrate its 100th year in operation, a milestone not yet reached by other businesses.
“I see this plant as a little gem in the North,” said Gasbarrino. “When you look at the international flavour that this plant has, and you look at the pride and the history that comes with it, it's an exciting place.”
In the company's North American sector, Bombardier Thunder Bay is the most active, said Gasbarrino.
In Ontario, close to 1.5 million people rely on Bombardier rail vehicles to make their daily commute.
In contrast, the company also relies on the expertise of more than 200 Ontario-based suppliers to provide high-quality products.
Its activities in Ontario over the last two years have also generated more than $60 million for local suppliers.
But none of this would be made possible without the dedicated employees that fill the building day after day, said Gasbarrino.
A cornerstone of its success and the high-morale of the staff can be contributed to the company's employee engagement survey.
This past year, Gasbarrino and David Dembski, vice-president of Bombardier Transportation, held small group meetings with as many employees as possible for three consecutive months.
“We had real unique discussions on what they needed on the job, and what they needed for their career,” said Gasbarrino. “Just based on that engagement with that interaction, I got to see the pride of the employees here.
“You harness that engagement and then you have to move forward to take what they need, with regular follow-ups.”
The company also uses the Bombardier Operating System to allow staff to give daily feedback.
This year, the staff at the Thunder Bay plant had a 93 per cent participation rate in employee engagement, which is one of the highest in all of Bombardier.
“The employees I have talked to mentioned the history of this plant and being the bi-level experts,” said Gasbarrino. “You can see it, and you can feel it.”
Diversity is also not a problem.
Gasbarrino said they've had people come to work at the site from overseas, in addition to the hiring they've done within the community.
Because safety is always an important precaution for any company, Gasbarrino said there's a specific challenge when it comes to Bombardier.
“There are always going to be challenges in manufacturing environments that have brought new employees, different cultures, and people from different companies,” he explained. “They have different expectations on how things work in terms of safety.
Gasbarrino said even one accident is too many.
“We're proud of our safety record. At the end of the day, when you come in healthy to work, you leave healthy.”
Bombardier has manufactured more than 1,400 rail cars in Thunder Bay, sent to both North American and Asian markets, and based on their current orders, that number will exceed 2,300 by 2020.
The state-of-the-art building also offers the full scope of innovation, from its design office, its engineering room, its technical service and their full manufacturing process.
“We have a nice size plant that is part of the bigger Bombardier family,” said Gasbarrino. “Careers can be made here.”
“There's not many places left like this.”