Canadian Contractor

By Kaitlin Secord   

Les Walker: Building the foundations of resilience

Canadian Contractor

Striving to achieve a career in an industry where he was truly passionate, while desiring to be a good father, Les Walker found himself at a crossroads.

Becoming a single father at the age of 21, Walker found it challenging to navigate the industry. With little understanding from employers of his role as single father, he felt at times there was no acceptance for his situation.

“There was this turmoil inside of me that said, ‘okay, well, this isn’t working out, it’s only going to destroy you’. This voice told me to go out on your own and take that risk. And I knew that voice was right: I was either going to fail as a as a businessperson, because I’m not as good as I think that I am, or I’m going to figure it out and be successful and excited about what I get to do every day. Either way, it allowed me to put my values first.”

Listening to that voice in his head, Walker set out to start Walker Home Construction in 2009. Today, he has nearly a 40-person team and serves communities throughout the Yukon.


Building in the North

A member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, Walker found himself supported and celebrated by his community.

“They have done things for this company that have put me in the place to succeed. They opened doors for us, and I had to walk through the door and prove that I deserve it,” he said. “Those moments of generosity and faith were immense. They have more faith in me than that sometimes I have in myself.”

Growing up in the Yukon, Walker is familiar with the terrain, and what’s inherent to the Yukon’s construction industry.

“Ninety per cent of our work is in Whitehorse, but 90 per cent of this work is also in the community, away from our home. There’s a lot of travel and managing things from a distance. Most of the communities we work in are further than where supply companies in town will deliver to, so that leaves us with an additional challenge while trying to provide this population with the housing it desperately needs.”

A lot of construction businesses in the Yukon close for the winter, but Walker Home Construction does not. This is an added obstacle to the issue echoing across the industry in Canada: labour.

Walker notes that navigating the issue of staffing can be difficult, noting that it is not an easy task to find carpenters willing to work in the extreme conditions of a Yukon winter.

Capacity is an issue too. With only 40,000 residents, the Yukon’s pool of carpenters and tradespeople is exceptionally limited.

“You’re dealing with these extreme elements, you’re trying to create stability in your employees’ lives, you’re trying to build a customer base where they have faith in you. And you’re juggling all these things at once. And it’s kind of like a symphony of things. But I’m a Yukoner, so bring it on.”

What’s working for Walker

Walker Home Construction company photo.

Seeing employees as people is a core value at Walker Home Construction. Walker understands all too well what the additional stress of an upset foreman or lost wages can add to an already-stressful circumstance.

“You don’t know what kind of day they’ve had, how their life is going outside of work, and all of these things need to be taken into consideration as to how you treat people.”

Walker gives graces, understands mistakes are made and encourages his employees to ebb and flow within their careers. He has seen this pay off time and time again, with positive relationships being his key to success.

“Construction is a fickle game and seeing how many people have had faith in me because of ways I’ve been able to be there for them is a great feeling. For people to say ‘I’m going to shift my career and come to work at Walker Home Construction, because I trust in this institution, and I trust in the vision’ has been the greatest a-ha moment for me. I’m doing this well and I’m doing right by everyone involved.”

Mentoring the next generation

With the goal of supporting the next generation, Walker has been focused on providing opportunities for the up-and-coming tradespeople.

Alongside Yukon University and First Nation’s communities, Walker Home Construction has a few initiatives in place to achieve this goal.

“What we are focusing on now is the mentorship programming, working with First Nations and the university. Now that we’ve become established, we can pull those young people in and make this a landscape of opportunity for them rather than something they fear or don’t feel comfortable pursuing.”

The trades go beyond putting up walls and hammering nails, Walker said. With so many other opportunities in the field, he aims to broaden the horizons of those he mentors. He believes there is a wide scope of skills, gifts and talents that can be applicable to the trades, all it takes is the fundamental skills.

These fundamentals are typically taught in trades school through modules, moving through them from week-to-week to hone in on the skills required to start a career.

Walker has noticed that while these building blocks for success are crucial, incoming tradespeople can forget what they learned by the time they get to flex their skills on the construction site.

“In the practical world, you might not use a certain module for eight months. So yes, they could have aced the test, but then, for example, they don’t build stairs for eight months, and they can’t remember how to calculate the risers. This can slow down the process of the job. What I’ve found was that we don’t have the ability to train them on site with the capacity that they need.”

To combat this slowdown, and to help apprentices become self-reliant, Walker Home Construction has begun to create videos for on-site refreshers. Accessible through their website, the refresher modules are around a minute long, helping to remind apprentices of what they need to know, allowing for confidence building, and improving workflow on the jobsite.

“All we’re doing is creating a path for them to say, here’s your information. Here’s a database of information that’s easily accessible to you,” said Walker.

Alongside government funding, Walker Home Construction is working alongside the apprenticeship teachers at Yukon University to design and critique the videos.

“We want them to be reflective of the curriculum the students are learning, so when they are referenced later on, it’s clear and helpful,” said Walker.

Walker Home Construction also has a prefab shop, where they invite younger people to come in and understand what it is they can do with a career in construction.

Walker Home values

Walker wants to meet and value people where they are at – both his employees and his customers.

“I realized is you don’t have to be the best, the most educated person in the room. If you come with integrity, and you’re willing to learn, you’re going to attract people that are educated and strong, and they’re going to teach you and they’re going to grow. This isn’t a competition, it’s a community,” said Walker.

As far as these values transcend into customers, Walker’s goal is to help his clients achieve their dreams. He understands that for a lot of his clientele, this is their first time building or renovating a home, and with that can come a haziness. He believes it is his team’s responsibility to use their experience and expertise to help them navigate the expectations, stress and successes that come along with these projects.

Building houses for Walker is more than just about profit, it’s about “making somebody’s dream come true.”

His ultimate goal for Walker Home Construction has always been to have fun, build strong relationships, continue to grow and be of service to creation.


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