Governments, start your recruitment campaigns

TV campaigns feature Alberta civil servants, B.C. forgives student loans for government service

Despite the fact a small but growing number of older, more experienced workers are remaining in the workforce, the average retirement age has dropped over the past several years. And, thanks in large part to generous defined benefit pension plans, Canadians who work for the public sector tend to retire at an even earlier age than their private-sector counterparts.

Between 2000 and 2005, the average age of retirement for public-sector employees was 59, according to a recent report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. That’s three years earlier than the average age of 62 for private-sector employees.

In 2008, 35 per cent of the federal public service is eligible to retire. By 2015, 45 per cent of managers in British Columbia’s civil service will be eligible to retire and, by 2013, 20 per cent of all of New Brunswick’s civil service will be able to pack it in.

While the proportion of public-sector employees eligible to retire over the next few years is different at the federal, provincial and municipal levels, as well as at different occupational levels, all governments need to step up their recruitment efforts if they want to win the race for talent.

Becoming a destination of choice is a preoccupation for many leading private firms as well as government agencies. There are nine steps governments can take to compete with private-sector employers.

Plan well: Know the business, and skills and competencies needed now and in the future to deliver on business goals. Do the skills and competencies need to be developed from within or hired from without?

Get better at speed to hire: A common complaint heard by candidates who applied for jobs within governments is it takes too long to hear back — if they hear back at all. The private sector fills positions much faster. Speed to hire does not mean one has to jeopardize merit, justice or fairness in the hiring process. It does mean, however, that governments need to improve processes to respond more quickly.

Partner with employees: Current employees, as well as summer students, can be some of an organization’s best recruiters, as long as workplace experiences are positive. Word of mouth remains a key factor in recruitment. The government of Alberta has 256 staff members located throughout the province who act as ambassadors in their communities to raise the profile of the public service. Civil servants also participate in a 30-minute television show on CTV called Alberta’s Best is Hiring where employees talk about what they like about their jobs.

Improve recruitment ads and online recruitment processes: A jobseeker will spend an average of eight seconds looking at an online job ad, according to To make the most of these eight seconds, keep the message short and simple. The ad should be exciting and meaningful to the target audience. Get rid of stiff, boring bureaucratic language and avoid industry jargon. The link to the careers section should be front and centre on the government home page.

Once on the careers page, the application process should be quick and user friendly. Too often a jobseeker applying for more than one job with a single organization has to fill out the same personal information for each application. To reach a larger pool of candidates, consider adding a referral button, which allows online applicants to e-mail the job posting to a friend.

Use high-touch techniques: While the Internet is a great tool for recruitment, so too is a personal approach. Research suggests jobseekers of all ages want to be treated with respect and courted during the recruitment process. For example, a military recruiter in Calgary offered to go to the home of a potential recruit to explain the opportunities associated with a career in the Canadian Forces. Government presence at career fairs is the minimum needed in high touch and HR should bring along a staff member from the appropriate field who is able to discuss the benefits of employment in the public sector and talk about the work environment, the people they work with and the tools they use.

Improve the image and reputation of government: Most surveys of youth clearly indicate an organization’s integrity and reputation are important to them when selecting an employer. The reputation of government as a slow, bureaucratic machine has been cited by HR professionals in governments and youth alike as a barrier to recruitment. It is important for political and administrative leaders in the public service to step up to the plate and shout from the rooftops the value of public sector employment and feature the positive attributes of a career in the public service.

Accentuate the positive and brand the organization: Through employer branding, organizations ultimately aim to sell their workplaces — their business, culture and benefits — to potential employees and current staff. Public-service employment offers many of the things workers of all ages are looking for, such as:

• variety of opportunity;

• the chance to make a difference;

• the opportunity to work with some of the country’s best minds;

• the opportunity to learn and grow; and

• the opportunity for work-life balance.

Savvy governments across the country are beginning to build and market a solid employment brand, creating catchy taglines to grab the attention of jobseekers. The tag line for B.C.’s public service is “Where Ideas Work” while in Nova Scotia it is “Make a Difference.”

Segment the market: Whether marketing to older workers, youth or people from diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds, it’s important to know what matters to the target audience. While money may not be at the top of the list of what youth are looking for from employment, it is most definitely on the list. Many of Canada’s youth are graduating from post-secondary institutions with high levels of student loan debt. B.C. knows this and recently announced a loan forgiveness program where, in turn for a commitment to working for the B.C. public service, the province will pay off the debt — one-third for each year of employment.

Keep track of alumni, use their “know who” and consider re-recruitment: Building alumni networks of former employees can make a difference in filling positions. Ex-staffers can provide referrals and may be open to returning to the workplace. Consider building an alumni network and actively tap into retirees who may be interested in returning to work in some capacity. Be flexible and innovative in wooing them back.

Judith MacBride-King is the principal of the Ottawa-based human resource management consulting firm MacBride-King and Associates. She can be reached at [email protected].

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