The People Mover

Stantec’s Shawn Paulson leads talent acquisition at one of Canada’s largest and fastest-moving companies

Shawn Paulson, director of global talent acquisition, loves the challenges that come about in the HR world.

The past six years or so have been a really rough time for most companies. But not for Edmonton-based Stantec Inc., a giant global engineering and design firm. Since 2006, it’s been growing steadily by 1,000 employees per year—the kind of personnel growth that would be remarkable in any market condition, much less during an internationally acknowledged worldwide recession.

At the personnel helm is Shawn Paulson, Stantec’s director of global talent acquisition. When Paulson joined the company in 2006, Stantec had about 6,000 employees. Today, the number is inching close to 13,000. A growth rate that substantial calls for serious leadership in human resources.

“Within five practice groups—buildings, environmental services, transportation, industry, and urban land—Stantec needs a balanced leadership model and a sound human-resources strategy for all those practice groups,” says Paulson.

By the Numbers


$1.8 b.
Market capital

North American locations


Year founded

Aboriginal partnerships

Percent of pretax profits donated to charity

International locations

Using a blanket approach to attracting talent, Paulson says that Stantec has to carve out a unique recruitment strategy—one that includes LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social-media devices. While some 500–1,000  of all new hires come from the company’s acquisitions, named hires are those referred by current employees, saving the company time in sourcing them. Still another large group applies directly online to the company’s website, a relatively easy process.

“What’s left is a large number of positions that are very difficult to fill,” says Paulson. “These are the elite workforces already employed by other companies, and most likely would need to relocate.”

To find them, Paulson says the company uses smaller networking tactics or executive recruiters, also known as “headhunters.” The hiring cycle ranges from two to three days to several months.

Paulson describes this target group of candidates as those super high-end individuals who can hit the ground running, immediately taking on critical multiple clients and projects. His department has had to expand their search beyond Canada for these hard-to-find engineers, architects, and others.

“We are having to expand our footprint and look across the world,” Paulson says.  “We’ve had lots of success in bringing candidates from Ireland and the UK, where the culture and climate is similar to that of the Maritimes.”

He confirms that international recruitment does work. “Europe has had a rough economy the last few years,” he says. “People make the decision to leave so they can provide for their families. They know they have to go where the work is.”

To communicate with his staff located in different time zones, Paulson uses intra-office technology such as instant messaging and Microsoft’s Lync web conferencing, which is like Skype but highly secure. All of this technology—plus and highly customized metrics—helps Paulson and his team find and hire the workforce they must have to remain competitive while keeping costs down.

Paulson loves the challenges that are par for the course in the HR world. “My whole reason for being in HR is that I’m a metrics-driven professional,” he says. “Previously, for another company, I was director of learning and development. It was a great springboard for my role at Stantec because it helped me develop metrics.”

The metrics he works with daily measure such numbers as how many days the job has been open, the average time needed to fill it, third-party recruiter cost, and other critical measurements.

A graduate of Grant MacEwan University in communication/media arts, Paulson is a certified human-resources professional and holds numerous certifications in coaching and executive leadership development from Queen’s University. He has almost 25 years of experience.

“The most important thing that motivates me is the realization that the most critical asset that any company can have is its people,” says Paulson. “And it’s very satisfying finding the people who will make that happen.” He says it’s also about their performance, because that directly translates into successful results for the company’s bottom line.

All in all, he’s very proud of the company. “Stantec is a Top 100 Canadian company, with 190 offices across North America and 4 international,” he says. “We have top talent in specialized niches. It’s a highly educated workforce custom-fit to project design at the highest levels.”