Home Month and Year April 2024 OpenCircle – Celebrating Business Excellence

OpenCircle – Celebrating Business Excellence

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OpenCircle, an Alberta-based not-for-profit organization, is the evolution of Merit Contractors Association and Merit National. To bring together more than 35 years of experience and service, the organizations have rebranded under one name that encapsulates its mission – to support construction workers and industry partners across the nation.

How does OpenCircle do this? By providing strong, sustainable and supportive workplaces with a full suite of tools to help employees grow, and with an industry-leading health benefit plan. As a member-based association, OpenCircle also provides programs and services to empower employers and employees in the construction industry.

With nearly four decades of experience in this sphere, OpenCircle fully understands the challenges faced by the construction industry, especially in Alberta. From health benefits to skills training and from mental health supports to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) integration, OpenCircle is making a tangible difference across Canada.
There is no doubt that the construction landscape is rapidly changing. There is a huge push to get more youth into the trades and more women are entering construction and its related industries as well. More eco-friendly initiatives are emerging, as is the technology employees use to do their jobs. As the landscape changes, so must policies, workplaces and ideals. OpenCircle proudly helps its 1,7000+ members and 50,000+ employees across Canada face this changing future with confidence.

The story of OpenCircle began in 1986 with 15 contractors forming Merit Contractors Association to ensure construction companies were rewarded for being competitive. In 2020, the association went national with Merit National. Now, as OpenCircle, the new branding minimizes confusion in the market.

Line Porfon, CEO, explains, “OpenCircle recently underwent a significant rebranding and business reorganization. We shifted our focus towards initiatives that would better serve our members as employers and employees. New initiatives will be launching soon and I am truly excited about how they will support our members and transform the industry.”

Porfon joined OpenCircle in 2014 after spending more than 25 years serving the public sector. She was appointed CEO in 2023. She is the association’s first female CEO, demonstrating the continued progressive stance of the organization.

“Our association represents close to 25 per cent of the construction industry in Alberta,” she continues. “With more than 35 years in the market, we have advanced the industry and moved with the times. We are representing an industry with increasingly more competition.”

One of the areas in which OpenCircle is making a difference is the increasingly present trades labour shortage. Factors contributing to the shortage include the retirement of Baby Boomers from the workforce and the diminishing crew sizes on construction jobs.
According to a report by BuildForce Canada, the province will soon need approximately 20,000 skilled workers to support $22 billion worth of resource value-added projects. It’s evident that addressing this labour shortage is crucial for sustaining Alberta’s trade industry and ensuring the continued growth and development of the province. OpenCircle is taking the challenge head on.

“OpenCircle has been advocating with decision makers for years, working with government, industry and other likeminded associations to address the labour shortage,” assures Porfon. “We also provide advice and support for programs in elementary, junior and senior high schools to boost interest in construction and its related trades.”

One of OpenCircle’s proud offerings is its cost effective health benefit plan for members. The plan is simple, flexible and designed to provide robust support for employers’ hourly and salaried staff.

Healthy employees are happy employees and happy employees are more productive. To this end, OpenCircle’s health benefits address physical and mental well-being by offering coverage for dental, vision and prescriptions as well as the Employee Assistance Program, which provides access to professional counselling. Life insurance, including short- and long-term disability is also offered. The association is looking into an increase in virtual programs and benefits to further support members and their families. In March, OpenCircle Benefits launched Telemedicine – a virtual offering where member employees (and their families) have 24/7 access to health professionals.

OpenCircle supports lifelong learning. Members’ qualifying dependent children have access to the OpenCircle Scholarship, while members themselves can take advantage of the Tuition Refund Program. OpenCircle’s Tuition Refund Program offers reimbursement of tuition costs for qualifying employees from member companies.

Members of the association also benefit from a very robust affinity program that offers deals and discounts for goods and services like accommodations, office supplies and gym memberships.

Another major advantage of being an OpenCircle member is the exclusive Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) and Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) provided for members and their employees. This involves matching options, lower fees and access to essential retirement planning resources to help employees reach their retirement goals.

The association takes great care of its members while also focusing on the community.

Porfon explains, “Our passionate employees work for change. Our team fundraises for causes close to their hearts and we match every dollar. It’s all part of how we empower others to be their best selves.”

OpenCircle’s employees select charities with a preference towards not-for-profits that support children, including organizations such as Little Warriors. This is an organization that provides awareness, prevention and treatment for child sexual abuse, as well as offering support for those affected.

With OpenCircle and Porfon’s many years of observing and engaging in Alberta’s changing landscape, she and the association have a bird’s eye view of the advantages of the province and how they can continue to inspire beneficial change.

“Alberta has long been known for its unique advantages – a robust economy, a thriving business sector and a vibrant community. However, what truly sets Alberta apart, in my view, is the people,” says Porfon. “Albertans are risk takers with an entrepreneurial spirit that propels our province and its economy forward. This modern Alberta Advantage is defined by the courage, innovation and determination of its residents.”
She continues, “Edmonton, where I grew up, holds a special place in my heart. The business community here is incredibly positive, resilient and inspiring. It’s a city that fosters growth and encourages creativity, making it an ideal place for businesses to thrive. The spirit of camaraderie and mutual support among the Edmonton business community is something that I deeply admire.

“Calgary, another major business hub in Alberta, is equally impressive. Known for its charitable nature and indomitable spirit, Calgary’s business community never lets any obstacle hinder their path to success. The city’s focus on philanthropy and community involvement adds a compassionate dimension to its business environment, making it a truly unique place to work and live.”

For those that have yet to enjoy the many member benefits of OpenCircle, Porfon says, “If there’s one thing I would like to tell our clients, it’s that our organization is built on not-for-profit principles. Every dollar we earn goes back into services, programs and rates that serve our members. We believe in creating value for our members and contributing to our community’s well-being.

OpenCircle is open for business and ready to welcome new members.

“Our membership is comprised of big and small companies. In fact, 65 per cent of our members are small and medium enterprises,” Porfon adds.

When it comes to long-term associations that are meeting the challenges of the construction industry and creating a beneficial environment for its workers and employers now and far into the future, it doesn’t get much better than OpenCircle. From advocacy to member benefits, to promoting lifelong learning to giving back to the community, OpenCircle continues to make a difference here in Alberta – and beyond.

Learn more online at opencircle.ca.
The association is also active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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