Ontario Construction Report special feature
Amy Lewis, senior manager of stakeholder relations at Tarion Warranty Corporation, is leaving her mark on Ontario’s new home building industry in a big way: Tackling Tarion’s education and outreach with key communities.
“Of course, our two big stakeholder groups are homeowners and builders,” Lewis said, but her responsibilities involve other stakeholders as well, including “anyone who has a touchpoint in the new home building and ownership process. Building officials, real estate professionals, home inspectors and trade groups are just some of the groups we engage with as part of this vast industry.”
Growing up, Lewis said she wanted to be a teacher. The opportunity to educate and help others reach their potential always appealed to her. A chance meeting with university outreach officers shifted her direction when they spoke about the communications programs that had led to their careers. Lewis remembers thinking “maybe this is for me.”
After graduating from Brock University in 2002 with a BA in media communications and pursuing a post-graduate certificate in public relations from Niagara College the following year, Lewis started her career in communications with the Real Estate Council of Ontario. From there, she moved to Tarion as the senior manager of corporate communications in 2012, before graduating to her current role in 2014.
In many ways, Lewis has come full circle. She now combines those well-honed communication skills with Tarion’s education and awareness mandate to foster better understanding of Ontario’s new home warranty program and industry issues.
In fact, she said she is most proud of her work in developing Tarion’s new Start Right program. Launched in 2017, Lewis described the Start Right Program as “an education program for newly registered builders that gives them the resources they need to start their careers off on the right path.”
When a new builder is registered with Tarion, they are automatically enrolled in the Start Right Program. That means they get a welcome letter from their assigned stakeholder relations representative, who going forward, is their dedicated resource to guide them through the early stages of registration. Builders are also sent personalized emails and alerts about their obligations, are offered a variety of education session and materials and are expected to attend one of Tarion’s builder updates within their first year of being a registered builder.
“We’re setting the stage for continuing education and professionalism throughout their career as builders,” Lewis said.
Start Right participants receive the tools, resources and insights they need along important milestones in their registration, such as a check in from Tarion when they receive their first statutory warranty form. This provides an opportunity to ensure the builder is aware of their responsibilities of the warranty and the customer service standards they are expected to adhere to.
Since its launch, more than 130 new builders have been registered and enrolled in the program.
How is it working? Lewis said had a strong showing of Start Right Program builders in attendance at the Fall 2017 builder update sessions and received positive feedback on Tarion’s education offerings, all of which are signs of success. But the real benefits of the Start Right Program will be seen longer term. “While a lot of what we do with Start Right focuses on education and relationship building, the end goal ultimately is improved customer service and a better new home ownership experience for their customers. It will take time to collect and review claims statistics and customer service indicators that will tell us if the program is truly helping builders meet their warranty responsibilities more effectively,” Lewis explained.
Aside from leading the development of Tarion’s education content, Lewis works closely with other Tarion employees on challenging issues such as illegal building.
Illegal building is a problem that affects homeowners across the province, and Tarion has been working with its industry partners to curb it. For her part, Lewis focuses on educating as many people as she can with regional tours that bring together media, builders, building officials and the government in order to raise awareness on the issue. “In many cases, people don’t even know illegal building exists. The idea of someone building without a license would like someone trying to be a doctor without going to medical school. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. Tarion’s regional tours and targeted illegal building sweeps help us shine a light on illegal building, raise public awareness about an important consumer protection issue, while picking up tips on where illegal builders may be.”
But that’s only a small portion of the industry. In fact, Lewis says she really enjoys her work, in part because she appreciates the character and the drive that is characteristic of so many in the new home building industry.
Like Tarion, many in the industry care deeply about the communities they are helping to build and where they live. Lewis said she feels fortunate to see some of that first hand through her work with Tarion’s corporate social responsibility initiatives like Habitat for Humanity builds with local builders and Tarion’s annual charity golf tournament where the industry comes together to raise money for The Children’s Wish Foundation. “In the past, we’ve worked the drive-through at McDonalds on McHappy Day and have seen local builders come by to support us and even join us in helping at the window. It’s empowering to know I’m part of an organization and an industry that cares.”
When asked about the perception that the home building industry is dominated by men, Lewis acknowledged it but offered, “This is an industry of hard workers and hard work is rewarded with opportunity.”
She added, “We have a very inclusive and supportive environment at Tarion.” Citing that 63 per cent of Tarion staff and 56 per cent of its managers are female, Lewis said that Tarion’s corporate culture and leadership team foster a sense of empowerment and growth. “In fact, many of the the opportunities I’ve been given while working in this industry have been because of strong female leaders that supported and advocated for me. Women can without question thrive at Tarion and in the new home building industry.”
Does she have any advice for young woman planning their careers?
“Look for mentors — strong leaders who can help you grow,” Lewis said. “If I wasn’t getting that from my own leadership, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to take on such innovative and progressive initaitives.”
Lewis also recommended that whenever the chance arises, women should pass both mentorship and sponsorship forward. “I look for opportunities to coach and mentor those who are starting out in their careers, whether it’s by bringing colleagues along on development opportunities or providing public speaking training. But more than that, I also find ways to support other women around me. Sponsoring and supporting one another goes far beyond those early years.”
Finally, she advises women to have goals, but not to get hung up on preconceived notions of an ideal career path, because “new experiences, particularly those that push us outside of our comfort zones, are usually what end up being the most rewarding and, in my experience, have taught me the most about where my career may be headed.”
As for what is in store for Lewis’ future: “I feel fortunate to work in an industry that’s always changing and challenging me to do more and to do better. I can’t say I know for certain what my role will be five or 10 years from now. I’m more focused on making sure that whatever comes my way, I continue to learn and feel challenged and fulfilled by my work. That has always been my priority.”