Top federal bureaucrat targets hiring, policymaking and mental health in her first report

Twenty-Second_Annual_Report_-_Report_-_Clerk_of_the_Privy_CouncilClerk Janice Charette on her three priorities for the public service in her first report to the Prime Minister on the public service:

In her report, Charette said she is “unequivocally and personally” committed to the Blueprint 2020 vision, unveiled by her predecessor, Wayne Wouters, as the road map for the public service in the digital age.

The public service is in the throes of a major transition and Blueprint has a strong appeal to young, tech-savvy public servants, as it is built around new technology and cutting red tape. It’s aimed at making the public service more networked, innovative, efficient, productive, better managed and tech-enabled.

A big complaint about it, however, is that it dodges some of the politically sensitive issues dogging Canada’s largest employer. These include: the lack of trust between bureaucrats and their political bosses; the public service’s diminished policymaking role and relevance; and what many call a “toxic” workplace that has one of the highest incidences of mental health claims in the country.

Charette’s three priorities could go a long way to address those perceived gaps.

The public service has faced an exodus of retiring baby boomers whom Charette said have to be replaced with recruits who bring new skills and fresh ideas to “manage in the modern world” dominated by technology and big data.

Charette said she isn’t setting hiring targets at this point, but departments must keep their human resource plans updated so they know which skills are needed for the future. With downsizing, departments have been preoccupied with shedding jobs.

The number of people leaving or retiring from the public service had been relatively stable over the years, until the 2012 budget cuts kicked in. Nearly 13,000 public servants retired or left in 2013-14, followed by another 12,283 the following year.

Charette said she isn’t looking to “grow” the public service, but new hiring hasn’t come close to replacing the record number of departures. About 4,300 permanent employees were hired last year and about 2,870 the year before. Rather than recruiting, departments are filling gaps with casual, term and student employees.

The recruitment and retention patterns are reflected in the experience levels of public servants. Today, 13 per cent of public servants have less than four years of experience compared to more than 17 per cent the previous year. The proportion with between five and 14 years’ experience, however, increased from 45 per cent to nearly 49 per cent.

The prime minister’s advisory committee on the public service sounded the alarm in a report last month, warning that departments averse to hiring could cause a “demographic hole” similar to the missing generation that dogged the public service for years when it stopped hiring in the 1990s. The report called for “top-down direction” from the clerk and deputy ministers.

“I think it is important for me to send a signal about where I see the priorities,” Charette told the Citizen. “Departments are making their own decisions right now about their HR priorities and I think it is important for me to signal that when I look at the public service as a whole, that this is one area where I think we have a public service-wide need.”

Here’s a quick look at what Charette said.

Recruitment:

Specialists in data analysis will be a key recruitment target.

The public service should also examine how it recruits. It typically relies on a major post-secondary campaign on campuses, as well as online recruitment  The public service also needs an infusion of mid-career and senior talent from the private sector.

Policy development:

The public service is no longer the only or even the primary source of policy advice for ministers. Politicians expect public servants to consult and collaborate with stakeholders and it’s up to public servants to quickly “synthesize” the various interests to come with advice in the public interest.

Public servants also have to strengthen the links between policy and service delivery.

“Who is responsible for integrating that information, synthesizing it and trying to weed through what is in the public interest as opposed to the interests of the person who may be advocating a position is the job of the public service. (That’s) evidence-based public policy,” she said.

Mental health:

Charette has “no tolerance” for the situation in which one in five public servants complained about harassment in the last public service survey.

She also worries about the rising incidence of mental health claims that approach half of all long-term disability claims. Public servants’ reliance on medications to combat mental illness is also on the rise.

Some good use of infographics to communicate range of activities and related data in contrast to the previous text-driven reports as well as tables on employment equity (still using the dated 2006 labour market availability, however, which paints an overly rosy view).

Top federal bureaucrat targets hiring, policymaking and mental health in her first report | Ottawa Citizen.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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