A Family Business Driven by Uncompromised Values
Dechant Construction Ltd. is celebrating over 40 years of family ownership and operation. The company started with its headquarters in High Level, Alberta but now has additional offices in Edmonton, Alberta, Fort McMurray, Alberta, and Fort Nelson, British Columbia. Dechant Construction Ltd. has grown to become a well known heavy civil and oil field construction contractor, operating throughout Northern Alberta and northeastern British Columbia.
The independent contracting company began in oilfield development and gradually expanded to include highway and water and sewer services for communities throughout these regions. No project is considered too big or too small.
Alphonse Dechant established the company in 1976. He is now retired but still plays an active role in advising his sons Doug, Danny and Wayne, who have been actively running the company since 1998. Alphonse remains “a book of knowledge for us,” says Operations Manager Doug Dechant. “We definitely lean on him quite a bit when we need to.”
Employee numbers can range from seventy to over two hundred during peak periods, but Dechant Construction never views employees as merely a number. Management makes every effort to get to know most employees that work on their sites. As a family owned business, making sure that everyone feels like the company is part of their own extended family is a priority.
“We’re hands-on,” says Doug. “We do know our employees. We know our supervisors. We’re on the job sites … We’re not just relying on information from someone in the field.”
Employing the most skilled and knowledgeable people starts with Dechant’s human resources department and although, “there’s been more turnover in the last few years, that’s just due to the economy,” Doug relates. That being said, Dechant does have a core workforce that has been with them long term. They have current employees that have been with the company for the last 35 years. He says that the most important aspect of being employed by Dechant Construction is that employees know Dechant’s core values, and in return they are loyal to the company. They also know when they are working and when they are going home. “It’s scheduled. They really appreciate that.”
Every effort is made to ensure that work camps are clean, that Dechant employees have comfortable accommodations and good food is available. That is important when one is working under harsh conditions, such as extreme cold. “You’re trying to make it feel like home the best you can,” he says. As Dechant employs people from across Canada, keeping them as comfortable as you can while they are working away from home is priority.
Dechant Construction Ltd. takes great pride in being an equal opportunity employer. Although there was a time when very few women applied to be heavy equipment operators, there now seems to be a growing interest. Doug suggests that twenty years ago, the training was not available like it is today, and these training schools are certifying greater numbers of women who are just as capable as their male counterparts. Currently Dechant has women working in various capacities throughout the company, including many as equipment operators.
Dechant Construction has built a strong client base. The company has taken great pride in attaining and retaining their clients. Clients have come to trust the Dechant name for its exceptional level of professionalism in completing projects on time and within budget. It is not an easy task, but one that Dechant strives for on all projects.
“We’re loyal to these companies,” explains Doug. “We meet with them a few times a year and on the job sites to make sure they’re happy with our performance.”
The company’s long-standing partnership with local First Nations groups has been crucial to its success in civil and oil field projects. It is a partnership borne out of respect, understanding and total transparency that ultimately benefits all. Dechant works diligently to employ local First Nations in all of the areas where they operate. He relates that the First Nations possess an invaluable local knowledge, and “they know the land better than anybody else … Dechant Construction definitely was built with the help of First Nations.”
A prime example of the ongoing commitment to local First Nations is the partnership between the Dechant brothers and local Fort McKay First Nation Band Member, Bobby Shott. Out of this partnership Shott Earthworks Inc. was born in 2014, and is now a well established Aboriginally owned company in the Oil Sands of Fort McMurray.
At any given time, Dechant Construction could be running close to two hundred pieces of Caterpillar equipment across several regions. The company depends on reliable equipment; downtime can be detrimental, especially with the seasonality of the industry. For this reason, the company retains a secure partnership with its equipment supplier, Finning Canada, a division of Finning International Incorporated. Founded in 1933, Finning is a world-leading Caterpillar equipment dealer that sells, rents and provides customer support to a variety of industrial sectors.
Dechant relies on services such as Finning’s global maintenance system to keep track of all its equipment and whether it is active or idle. If idle, such equipment can then be moved to another region area so machinery is fully utilized.
Doug relates that there are times when there are going to be equipment breakdowns, especially when working in -40 conditions. It is for this reason that Dechant Construction operates its own re-build shop with mechanics who can complete things such as engine and transmission repair in the field. However, if the company does require parts, Finning’s supply depot in Peace River can usually have parts delivered to Dechant overnight. “They go above and beyond for us when we need their help,” he affirms.
He also says that contending with weather conditions, whether fighting frigid temperatures or heavy rains, is when “you rely on your people. You’re only as good as the people that you have … There’s definitely nothing easy about it.” He confirms that under such conditions, the company will employ more resources to make sure a project is done on time, which sometimes means working twenty-four hours a day with multiple crews. “That’s what we do.”
Doug notes that the equipment used today is ever-changing. There was a time when a bulldozer operator had to work with an open cab while wearing a snow suit to cope with extremely cold temperatures. “The equipment is so comfortable now for the operators, and that’s what it’s all about … You want to get quicker and more efficient in ways to get jobs done on time, on budget.”
Safety is crucial, and the company is committed to worker safety and accident prevention. In the early 1990s, the company received its COR recognition through the Alberta Construction Safety Association (ACSA). Dechant has developed an extensive health and safety program providing information and shared knowledge to ensure that employees, the public, property and the environment are considered at all times. Its in-house orientation and training programs provide certifications to all personnel, ensuring that they are sufficiently trained prior to going to work in the field.
Dechant Construction is also a member of several health and safety management programs such as the ISNetworld, ComplyWorks, CQNetwork and Avetta. These programs assist companies with critical information related to the collection, verification and reporting of business processes, assuring Dechant’s clients that not only are all regulated requirements met, but their individual health and safety requirements are as well.
Such affiliations further aid the company’s commitment to meet requirements and standards fundamental to the industry. “If you’re not protecting your employees, you’re not going to work, and you shouldn’t be working,” suggests Doug. “You have to protect your employees.”
“We’re proud of our safety accomplishments,” he notes. The company has been the recipient of several safety awards, the most recent being from the Alberta Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association (ARHCA). “We don’t need to be recognized, but it’s nice to be recognized for our employees, that they know somebody is recognizing us … It’s a defining moment for us.”
In 1990, Dechant Construction decided that diversification of services would increase growth potential and competitiveness. Rather than limiting itself to above-ground projects, it decided to go below ground as well. Its underground utilities division was established with a specialization in subdivision development for projects such as culverts and pipe installs. This enabled Dechant Construction to “start bidding on the whole project instead of just a part of it – to get ourselves more competitive on these jobs …it’s still going strong. We’re still getting work done.” He confirms that “it does separate us from the rest of the competition.” The company also does site clearing wherever and whenever required.
Every construction company, regardless of the sector, has unique challenges. For Dechant Construction Ltd., that challenge came in the form of its first oil sands project in Fort McMurray in 2008. The company was awarded part of a large project that included the installation and testing of all site services for a huge new camp development. This consisted of water, sewer, storm water, electrical, gas and final grading.
It was one of Dechant’s largest projects to date, in an area relatively foreign to them at the time. The company also had to deal with a high water table and a first time client with large expectations. “This project was the turning point for the direction of our safety culture and development of our current safety program,” explains Doug. “The standards in the oil sands, at the time, were much greater than other work sites we were used to working on. This operation took [an] average seventy to one hundred people roughly one and a half years to complete. We did so safely and effectively.”
A family-run business, “is definitely not easy,” shares Doug, explaining that the company has had to engage in a great deal of moving around because “you have to go where the work is … It’s not coming to you. You have to find the work.”
However, he remains steadfast in his affirmation that his company’s strong family values will continue to propel his company forward. “These values have proved instrumental in the securing of long-term relationships which have contributed to the success of Dechant Construction Ltd.”