“So our message to students and graduates is, we need you in the public service and we will be out there and will be recruiting.”
— PSC president Anne-Marie Robinson, quoted in the Ottawa Citizen, November 6, 2014
To learn about working for the government, I visited the jobs.gc.ca website. It’s where the Public Service Commission branded the Government of Canada as an employer of choice. Back in 2001, the site highlighted diversified work, attractive compensation and opportunities for advancement as reasons to join. If you became a part of this team, you’d be working for a “model organization”.
It sure seemed like an amazing place to work, and this branding is part of what attracted me as a recruit. After all, who wouldn’t want to work for an employer that tries to be a model for all others?
Through a lengthy hiring process, I joined the federal public service in 2001. After rewarding but low-paying shiftwork jobs in the nonprofit sector, it truly felt like a dream job – fair pay, good benefits, and daytime hours. The Commission’s branding matched my experience. I had interesting work and opportunities to learn and grow.
Once employed as a Fed, I stopped paying much attention to the jobs.gc.ca site. After all, why bother looking at entry-level job postings if I already had an entry-level position? In retrospect, I probably should have kept an eye on it though. Thanks to the Internet Archive, we can all take a look at the evolution of how the federal government has branded itself as an employer.
Like most websites, jobs.gc.ca has evolved over the years. The employer of choice branding was expanded in 2005 when another five reasons to join the public service were added, including a rich career path, continuous learning, and effective work-life balance. All good stuff.
The site changed dramatically in June 2012. The phrase “employer of choice” and those five reasons to join the public service? They’re completely gone. Today, the site is simply a search engine for job postings, with little context about why someone might want to join the federal public service. While some individual departments and agencies maintain Careers pages, I could not locate a current government-wide answer to the question why should I want to work there?
Large and small, public and private, every employer wants to have the best employees. To this end, many organizations present themselves as an employer of choice via recruitment websites. Examples include Telus, Alberta Health Services, and the Ontario Public Service. Such sites answer the question “why would you want to work here?”.
Today, for the federal government, that question is left unanswered. Indeed, the Destination 2020 plan includes an action item to “define and communicate the Federal Public Service Brand.” So, perhaps we simply don’t have something new to say just yet.
Or, perhaps, the reason we can’t answer the question is because we’ve simply lost sight of it. After a few years of downsizings that’s certainly understandable. We’ve had many colleagues depart and few new hires join us. Many of us feel stressed and under pressure to do more with less.
For myself, I choose to believe that the public service is still a rewarding place to work and an employer of choice – those words from 2001 resonate with me today. No other employer offers as many points of service, career paths, or opportunities. The pay is decent and the work has a purpose.
My perspective is clouded, though, because I’ve worked with and for a number of exceptional public service managers.
Those managers have little influence on how the government as a whole brands itself to potential recruits. To their employees, though, they are the employer. If team members feel welcome and part of a larger cadre of public servants, they, like me, will tell their friends. Likewise, if ignored, under-developed, or mismanaged they’ll also share stories of their ‘bad boss’ with their friends too.
Those great managers have solidified my opinion of the public service. If you’re a manager, you have the opportunity to be the public service brand. Be a leader who makes each member of your team feel truly important. Treat them like a million-dollar investment Canada’s future, because that’s exactly what they are.
What do you believe creates an employer of choice? More importantly, what can you do to foster that kind of environment for yourself? For your colleagues? For your employees? Every day is a choice to be that model employer. Choose wisely.
George Wenzel is a journeyman public servant. He has worked delivering programs and in internal services, most recently in Human Resources. His mission has been to improve service to Canadians by improving frontline management. You can find him online at about.me/georgewenzel, govlife.ca, and on Twitter @georgewenzel.