Preparing the next boom – Canadian Government Executive

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May 7, 2012

Preparing the next boom

CGE Vol.14 No.3 March 2008

Most observers expect more than 40 percent of the executive cadre of the public service to retire in the next five years. This outcome is the result of the massive hiring of the leading edge baby boomers as they graduated from university in the early 1970s, when governments around the world expanded their mandates and implemented new budgeting and planning systems to mirror those taking place in the private sector. The boomers are now ready to retire.

According to recent survey data, the effect will be most pronounced in information management, program delivery, and administrative services. Moreover, the impact will also be significantly greater among those able to start new careers in the private sector, while taking advantage of the generous pension provisions that kick in at age 55.

In addition, the federal government has been growing for the past several years, and recently embarked on an ambitious hiring campaign to respond to new program priorities in security and justice, as well as to the massive reporting requirements inspired by the new Federal Accountability Act. For example, in 2006-2007 the federal government hired almost 18,000 new employees on a full time or fixed term basis. More than 2,400 scientists were hired as well as 5,400 administrative and foreign-service employees, with the largest numbers going to the Canadian Border Services, Correctional Services Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, the Department of National Defence, and Human Resources and Social Development.

Furthermore, if we assume the federal public service will continue to grow at its current rate of 2.4% per year for the next five years, the national government will have increased its workforce by 32,000.

As a consequence, this is a boom time for young Canadians with a passion for public service and the right qualifications. The jobs are interesting, career paths are wide open to ambitious (and bilingual) managers, and, given the scope of government activities, the range of job offerings is as broad as possible. Moreover, as University of Toronto professor Sandford Borins observed, “the bloom is off the rose” when it comes to private sector employment in the wake of Enron-type scandals, revelations of corporate excesses and the mounting evidence of a consumer-led recession.

For good reason, universities and colleges will be the major source of new hires. In 2006, there were about 815,000 full time and 265,000 part time students at Canadian universities at the graduate and undergraduate level. Taken together, there are now more than a million Canadians studying at universities who have the potential to pursue a career in the public sector.

Although public servants at the federal and provincial levels are drawn from the full range of university and college degree programs, there is one broad field of study that is designed exclusively for public sector employment. Twenty Canadian universities offer graduate programs in public policy and administration, although their composition and general philosophies vary considerably.

According to a recent study completed by the Canadian Association for Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA), there are three different kinds of programs to prepare university students for careers in the broader public sector (not just government). The three major areas of study, broadly defined, are public administration, public policy and public management. Some of the programs are designed around one of the areas while others offer more than one area of specialization. The CAPPA programs produce approximately 400 graduates a year for governments and other employers in need of new talent.

For example, Victoria University, Carleton University, l’Ecole National d’Administration Publique, Queen’s University and Dalhousie University all offer Masters of Public Administration while Simon Fraser University and the University of Toronto offer a Masters of Public Policy. Although there is no specific Master’s degree in public management, York University offers a concentration in public management.

Over the past few years, a number of new programs have been added to the list of graduate studies. Ryerson University is now offering a Masters degree in Public Policy and Administration while York University provides a Masters in Public and International Affairs and another in Public Policy, Administration and Law. Glendon College (which is affiliated with York University) has recently created a new School of Public Affairs anchored around a highly advertised Advisory Board where it offers a graduate degree in Public and International Affairs.

To round out the new program offerings, the University of Toronto has welcomed its first Masters class in Public Policy and Governance and so has the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Finally, the University of Regina has created the Johnson-Shoyama School of Public Policy that ties policy and implementation together.

To add further complexity to the variety of options for interested students, at least ten of the programs have internships designed to offer students some realistic appreciation of administration through practical experience in government and not-for-profit organizations.

These are exciting times in Canadian public administration and public policy schools as they expand their course offerings to respond to the changing and increasing demands of the job marketplace. While it is difficult to characterize the programs in a singular way, in general the programs choose one of the following orientations: management, public policy, management and policy, or political science. Each of these orientations has unique characteristics that define the way in which the programs are organized although they typically offer the following common courses: political systems, theories of public policy, policy processes and decision-making, and finally, research methods and quantitative theory (statistics).

From the classroom perspective, these schools are enjoying a renaissance driven by a heavy demand for their graduates, the arrival of a new cohort of research and teaching faculty (bolstered by recently retired senior public servants), and a resurging interest in public service among young Canadians.

However, the competition for talent among the three levels of government and the increasingly important non-governmental agencies suggests that governments should not be complacent in their hiring practices. Based on another recent CAPPA study completed by Fazley Siddiq of Dalhousie University, there appear to be many ways in which governments can improve their recruiting practices in order to link potential employees to the most appropriate contact points in the public service.

Recent recruitment programs introduced by the federal government, Ontario and British Columbia demonstrate that governments are cognisant of the need to become “cutting edge” in their efforts to attract talented graduates. If the momentum of the last few years continues, it is very possible that, years from now, observers could count this period as a renaissance for the teaching of public administration and public policy in Canada.

David Zussman holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa. He is also the president of the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration

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