OPS a top employer in Canada

Family-friendly benefits help government employer make list three years running
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/14/2011

Top employer lists are usually full of banks, professional services firms, cutting-edge technology companies and other large corporations. These organizations typically have the resources to provide the compensation, benefits and programs that appeal to employees and jobseekers alike.

While governments are known for great defined benefit pension plans, it is a challenge to balance the need to offer competitive compensation while being accountable to taxpayers.

Which is why the Ontario Public Service (OPS) is honoured to have been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers by Mediacorp Canada for the past three years, said Angela Coke, associate deputy minister of HR Ontario, the de facto head of human resources at the OPS.

“The external recognition, like the Top 100 Employers award and the other awards we have received, they really help us to know that we’re on the right track and we’re making progress,” she said. “It’s important to understand that, compared to others, we’re being considered a top employer.”

While compensation is important, people are looking for more from their workplace, said Coke.

“They want to work for places where they can have some meaning and purpose to their work,” she said. “In the public service, you can make a difference. You can contribute to the quality of life for almost 13 million Ontarians.”

The OPS scored top marks in the health and family-friendly benefits category, with 100-per-cent employer-funded heath benefits that continue into retirement with no age limit, maternity leave top-up payments (to 93 per cent of salary for 32 weeks), parental leave top-up payments for new fathers and adoptive parents (to 93 per cent for 17 weeks), flexible work hours and on-site daycare.

Mediacorp also ranked the OPS above average for financial benefits and compensation. The OPS participates in outside salary surveys and reviews salaries every 12 months to stay competitive. It also provides a DB pension with employer contributions of up to eight per cent of salary.

Other benefits include three weeks of vacation to start, active involvement in various charities, tuition subsidies for job-related courses and in-house career development.

“We have to do a better job explaining our total compensation and the many benefits that make us competitive,” said Coke. “This is something we need to promote more.”

Just like many other employers, the OPS is looking to attract and retain top talent to deliver on business goals. And like other employers, the service has an aging workforce and is facing mass retirements, but the situation is even more critical for the OPS, said Coke.

“Compared to the Ontario workforce, we have a proportionally older workforce,” she said.

One of the biggest challenges the OPS faces in recruiting is most people don’t fully understand the nature of the work the public service does, or its variety and breadth.

“We’re involved in every type of sector you can imagine. We have every type of career, a very wide range of opportunities,” said Coke.

With more than 60,000 employees in 1,800 locations across the province, the OPS is Ontario’s second largest employer and employs a variety of professionals including: biologists, lawyers, social workers, nurses, mechanics, auditors, policy analysts and forest firefighters.

To get the word out about careers with the OPS, the service created the Youth and New Professionals secretariat to reach out to potential candidates, said Coke.

The secretariat has its own web portal, with frequently asked questions about working for the OPS, and employee ambassadors visit universities and colleges to promote the public service as a top employer.

And the message has been getting through to young people, with the Government of Canada and provincial governments being ranked the top two employers of choice for college and university students, according to the 2010 Canada’s Top Campus Employers Report, a survey of nearly 28,000 college and university students by Brainstorm Strategy and Decode.

The OPS has put several programs in place recently to solidify its position as an employer of choice. This includes a manager training program that clearly defines a manager’s role and expectations as well as training to help managers meet those expectations, said Coke.

The OPS’s talent management program helps the service systematically assess, develop and deploy talent across the organization. It also helps the OPS identify what talent is available in-house to fill critical roles in the future.

“We hear from other jurisdictions that come and want to hear more about our talent management program,” said Coke. “Talent management is something any good employer has to pay attention to.”

The OPS conducts a regular employee engagement survey to measure engagement and find out where the service can make improvements. In fact, the manager training program came out of survey comments about wanting to ensure the service has strong, quality leaders, said Coke.

“Every new manager has to go through that program. We know what the impact is of managers on the workplace, on how people feel engaged and staff feel supported,” she said.

With such a large and decentralized workforce, the challenge for HR isn’t so much in developing policies but ensuring they are consistently applied across the organization, said Coke.

To do that, HR clearly communicates expectations, ensures training and development programs are available to all employees, regardless of location, and educates managers and staff about policies (what they are and how they should be applied).

“We have great support from the communications branch — electronic newsletters, face-to-face sessions — using all the media that’s available to us,” she said.

The OPS has also been selected as one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for the past two years and was named one of the Top Employers for Canadians Over 40 and one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for the first time in 2010.

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