Harvesting Homegrown Talent

Rather than sitting back and letting potential employees of varying skill and ability levels come to him, Jonathan Zerkee, owner of Sonbuilt Custom Homes in Langley, British Columbia, created his own junior apprenticeship program in a proactive effort to hire the best people he could find.

Zerkee was taught the trades by his father, and this is his way of returning the favor to young people today. The apprenticeship program identifies young students before they get to the college level. “I try to get them in grade nine and 10, to work with me on Saturdays. In some cases we have identified very skilled workers, and they go on to work with our company.”

The students are trained how to work in the mill shop, on table saws, with planers, safe use of pneumatic tools, and how to read their tape measure correctly. “We teach them how to put a wall together, and use their square. So when they go out and work with our crews, they know what to do. I can identify if a student has the hand/eye coordination needed to work in the trades, and if they’ll be successful down the road.”

One apprentice worked with Zerkee for eight years, and only recently left the company. Now he calls Zerkee and asks for advice. “Yes it’s hard to lose someone, but it also makes you feel good to help people succeed.” The average apprentice remains with Sonbuilt for two or three years. Only one in 10 years hasn’t worked out.

Sonbuilt benefits by employing young people that have energy and enthusiasm, and by training them while young, Zerkee is building loyalty and trust. Zerkee also is able to train apprentices in the way he wants the job done, and doesn’t have to deal with a person who is trained by someone who does a job differently from how he works.

Growing talent at home improves business and presents a better public image, which also is why Sonbuilt has constructed a new headquarters building and showroom. The entire space is finished with different lighting, mouldings and other products, and contains a board room with a big screen, where clients can sit down, watch videos, and go through services that Sonbuilt offers.

The large mezzanine area contains samples of windows, siding, doors and brochures. “The building separates us from our competition. A lot of guys work out of their pickup truck, and this sets us apart. We’re trying to show clients that we’re different than our competition.”