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Empowering Employee Learning With D2L Wave

EllisDon launched a new learning program, powered by D2L Wave, to enhance its employee benefits package and increase access to and accessibility of professional development opportunities.




  • Tory Smith, Director of Talent Management, EllisDon 
  • Ashley Maxwell, Senior Project Manager, EllisDon 



  • EllisDon partnered with D2L to launch D2L Wave in January 2022.
  • Strong employee interest in a variety of course formats showcases the need for flexibility in upskilling; some courses are self led, while others are instructor led. Some courses are months long, while others can be completed in under a day. 
  • The company encourages internal mobility and trusts its employees to request courses that will help them advance their careers—even if the course isn’t directly related to their current roles.  


Labor crunch. Upskilling. Time. 

As in any industry, the challenges facing the construction industry are multifaceted.  

“In construction, the biggest challenge is that there’s a large talent shortage across the board,” says Ashley Maxwell, senior project manager at EllisDon. “Being able to manage a lot of different career progressions can be a challenge for team leads.” 

The numbers back up his findings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 359,000 unfilled construction positions at the end of 2022. 

Upskilling opportunities can help fill empty roles, encourage internal mobility and serve as a recruitment strategy: 

  • Filling empty roles: The more specialized a role, the more difficult and expensive it can be to fill. 
  • Internal mobility: Companies that excel at internal mobility retain employees for almost twice as long as companies that don’t. 
  • Recruitment: Employees want to take professional development (PD), but there’s a significant gap between the employees who want to take learning opportunities and those who actually do take them. In our white paper Enabling Upskilling at Scale, we found that around three-quarters of North American workers want to participate in external PD. That’s compared to around 15% who take the leap.  

With the benefits clear, why doesn’t more of the workforce pursue professional development? There are other challenges that employees are facing when it comes to advancing their careers. 

“From an L&D [learning and development] perspective, the challenge we’re facing right now is that people are really busy,” says Tory Smith, director of talent management at EllisDon. 

“I don’t just mean with work, though that can’t be underestimated; there is competition for every moment of our employees’ attention. Whether it’s the news, social media, new company initiatives or keeping up with their home lives, everyone is fighting for their time. It’s up to us to show the value L&D has for their personal and professional development by providing a multitude of options that they can tap into when they need it.” 

With so much on their plates between work and home, employees may not feel they have the extra time or mental space to commit to learning. They may think of “learning” in the traditional sense, where they would attend classes in person at set times throughout the week over the course of the semester. That can be an intimidating prospect. 

Aside from time, upfront costs represent a barrier for many. 

“Not all of these courses are affordable for our employees to cover from the outset; some are in the thousands of dollars,” Smith continues. “In the past, we had asked people to front the cost and to get it reimbursed upon completion of the course, which could be months.” 

A 2020 report from the Federal Reserve showed that the median value of U.S. transactional accounts (think cash accounts, like checking and savings accounts, or prepaid debit cards) was $5,300. That means for many households, shelling out thousands for their education—even if it will be reimbursed later—is out of the question. 

All of this feedback aligns with our findings in Enabling Upskilling at Scale. The three most-cited reasons for not pursuing upskilling were these: 

  Prohibitive upfront costs Lack of time at work Lack of time outside work (family commitments, etc.) 
American employees 42% 36% 31% 
Canadian employees 43% 36% 32% 


A wide range of direct-billed upskilling opportunities with flexible delivery 

EllisDon was impressed with D2L’s commitment to removing barriers for those wanting to take on professional development. 

With more than 900 courses delivered online or in person, on demand or live, self led or instructor led, there are options to suit every employee at EllisDon. And so far, employee uptake shows that many employees feel there are good options available to them. 

Nearly 12% of EllisDon’s active users have requested professional development through D2L Wave, with the bulk of those requests coming in the past eight months. 

The other benefit of the platform for EllisDon’s employees: direct billing. 

“Really what clinched it for me was the direct billing,” Smith continues. “When we found out that D2L would bill EllisDon for courses directly, from an inclusivity perspective, this was the way that training should be done.” 

Now, rather than employees carrying the burden of their course costs—even temporarily—the fees are billed directly to EllisDon. While D2L Wave offers courses that range in price from a couple of hundred to thousands of dollars, direct billing lowers the barrier to entry for all employees. That goes especially for those who are newer in their careers and may not be earning as much or those who have significant expenses at home and can’t afford to pay for the courses at the outset. 

Maxwell, who took a course in leadership, said that signing up for it through D2L Wave was a breeze. 

The process was a lot easier than I thought it would be. When I came into it, I might have had a bad preconception. I thought it would be really clunky. But I really enjoyed how easy the process was.

Ashley Maxwell, Senior Project Manager, EllisDon 

The course itself, How to Pick Up the Pieces – Leadership, Motivation and Gratitude in Action, through McMaster University, Maxwell found very impactful. He said it helped him be more thoughtful and empathetic when communicating big changes to his team. 

“As a senior project team manager, I lead people through a lot of change,” Maxwell continues. “The course talked a lot about empathy and ensuring you tailor your communication for each team member. It reminded me to take pause before communicating around a big change. I feel it’s made me a better communicator in an industry where communication is so important.” 

Another bonus: The course aligned with his delivery preferences and his busy schedule. The course was instructor-led, something he preferred, and delivered synchronously. For Maxwell, that meant he could book off the time in advance and know exactly when and how much time he’d need to devote to it. 

His colleagues, on the other hand, prefer some of D2L Wave’s offerings that are delivered differently. One of the most popular courses at EllisDon to date is Construction Planning & Scheduling. Delivered through NAIT, it’s an asynchronous, self-led course that appeals to employees who value its flexibility. And unlike the course Maxwell took, which is a stand-alone option, the NAIT course can be combined with five others to complete a whole program, like the Construction Administrative Controls certificate. 

Having options that suit every employee’s needs makes it easier for everyone to access upskilling opportunities. 


Reinforcing EllisDon’s culture of learning and trust 

EllisDon is built on the entrepreneurial spirit of its employees. Enabling team members to learn and advance their own careers doesn’t just make a difference in their lives, but it’s also integral to the company’s very foundation. 

For Maxwell, he found immense value in the ability to take a course that’s directly related to a challenge he faces in his day-to-day role. 

“In the construction industry, communication is always a huge challenge,” Maxwell says. “In my role, I’m constantly taking large, complex information and sharing it between teams. In a leadership role, you’re the hub of the wheel, directing traffic and leading the vision.” 

The leadership course he took focused on leading with empathy and ensuring that people leaders specifically tailor their communication for each of their team members. That helped him stop to think about big challenges and changes that his team may face and how to communicate about them. 

He’s not alone. Since launching D2L Wave a little more than a year ago, there have been nearly 10,000 program and course views among EllisDon employees. 

Our partnership with D2L Wave tells our employees that we trust them. We don’t just hire them for the skills they have when they walk through the door; we hire them for who they are and their commitment to deliver great careers to each other. It shows them that we see skills as learnable and encourage employees to seek out the experiences that will allow them to develop those skills.

Tory Smith, Director of Talent Management, EllisDon 

“Our partnership with D2L Wave tells our employees that we trust them,” says Smith. “We don’t just hire them for the skills they have when they walk through the door; we hire them for who they are and their commitment to deliver great careers to each other. It shows them that we see skills as learnable and encourage employees to seek out the experiences that will allow them to develop those skills. 

“It also shows that we’re looking at the barriers employees face when it comes to upskilling and professional development and tells them that we’re looking to remove those barriers.” 

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