The procurement group within the Government of Canada is undergoing a period of rapid transformation. Effectively managing these changes will require a shift in mindset: a move away from working in “silos,” focusing on the challenges in only our own organizations, and toward adopting a broader vision of community. The procurement community across the public service must share people, effort, and knowledge. The role of a Purchasing and Supply (PG) employee is also transforming, with a move away from routine contracting to more strategic procurement. To meet these changing demands, the old ways of doing things must be shed so as to further an agenda of innovation and transformation. The procurement group at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has undertaken significant steps to enable this new vision for success.
The CBSA’s Strategic Procurement and Contracting Operations Division (SPCOD) has undergone twelve months of substantial transformation. Recognizing the broad changes occurring within the PG function, the group has begun to implement a variety of efforts to address the associated risks, both short and long-term. The goal is to become a workplace of choice while rebuilding the PG community within the CBSA.
Rebuilding and Recruiting for Success
After several years of high employee turnover, the CBSA PG group had to be rebuilt. Recognizing the increased demand for strategic services and the growing complexity of requirements within the PG function, the CBSA contracting group increased by 15 full-time employees (FTEs), with fewer PG01 and 02 positions, and more PG03s, 04s, 05s, and 06s. This reconfigured resource mix reflects a shift in demand from repetitive, low-dollar value contracts to more complex, varied procurement requirements, as well as the increasingly common need for PGs to partner effectively with clients and plan strategically.
The SPCOD reengineered staffing processes to create open pools, available for use by all federal departments, using generic PG work descriptions. The idea is to “practice what we preach,” looking at staffing as a universal requirement shared by all departments. Interview panels included participants from a variety of organizations, in an effort to ensure that the qualifying candidates are desirable to the procurement community as a whole, as well as to encourage collaboration among departments. The SPCOD has created a new staffing model that could be applied in other departments who are facing the same shortage of resources: the efficiencies that would be realized from such a shared vision are considerable.
CSBA has also increased student recruitment, with three CO-OP and two FSWEP positions staffed on an ongoing basis. New outreach initiatives, including visiting post-secondary institution career fairs and participation in Spotlight on Procurement Career Opportunities in Ottawa, a special edition in a local university publication, are two examples of creative outreach. The SPCOD is currently writing a strategic procurement case study that will be included in a course in the Supply Chain Management program at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
Investing in People
The SPCOD is investing in its people through a commitment to continued learning. Formalized in-class training is encouraged, as is on-the-job-learning, and options such as keeping current on recent Canadian International Trade Tribunal cases and decisions. The CBSA has also purchased an annual membership for the Contracting team with the Canadian Public Procurement Council (CPPC), an organization designed to be a source of knowledge and information for contracting personnel. Team members are encouraged to avail themselves of the knowledge and current event information available on the CPPC website. The Canadian Institute for Procurement and Material Management (CIPMM) National Workshop provides a unique opportunity for contracting and procurement specialists to network with colleagues across government and take advantage of learning opportunities that explore current initiatives, policies, and best practices. The SPCOD has played an important role in organizing this year’s event. Members of the team from both headquarters and the regions are attending, as well as presenting on a variety of topics.
The SPCOD has begun to implement professional development opportunities in the form of mini-assignments within the division. For example, contracting officers have opportunities to work with the Quality Assurance (QA) section to develop their QA skills. A mentoring program has begun with the goal of sharing knowledge between senior and junior officers and building cohesive relationships among team members. Temporary assignment opportunities for regional PGs at Headquarters are being considered, which would allow for knowledge transfer and shared learning, build the CBSA’s national contracting capacity, and contribute to a renewed sense of cohesiveness and collaboration across the Agency. Staffing efforts have also included welcoming employees on secondment from other departments as well as CBSA employees from different branches.
Informal learning events have been organized, such as “Brown Bag Lunch” sessions on topics such as Security in Contracting and SMART Procurement. These learning opportunities increase knowledge and technical skills, as well as soft skills, and ensure that employees feel valued. The SPCOD also extends invitations to PGs in other departments to participate in our learning events.
Commitment to the Certified Federal Specialist in Procurement (CFSP) designation is strong within the SPCOD. Two SPCOD members are pursuing Level II Certification, and a growing number of employees are now certified in Level I. Over 95% of the SPCOD team is enrolled in the program. Management is committed to providing the time and funding required for the team to pursue certification.
Engaging with Organization and Colleagues
The CBSA Contracting team is committed to learning more about the CBSA itself and the operational reality it supports. This is being achieved through field trips to operational sites, including the Ottawa International Airport, a Port of Entry, the CBSA laboratory, the CBSA College in Rigaud, and two immigration holding centres. Each trip offered substantive learning opportunities, providing the team with a better understanding of the clients they support: this is an essential component of the team’s success. Being seen as partners who support the Agency’s agenda is critical, and operational visits remind corporate groups such as Contracting why the team exists.
The SPCOD regularly liaises with procurement personnel in other organizations, sharing information on best practices and lessons learned. Internal documents, such as decks and briefing notes, are shared wherever possible. Often, the same initiatives are occurring across departments, and the time and effort that can be saved by sharing work already undertaken is substantial. Open discussion and sharing of ideas has led to the SPCOD finding successful alternate sourcing strategies for critical commodities. This type of community-minded efficiency is critical to the success of the entire PG group.
The Contracting team at the CBSA is transforming the PG group within the Agency, and ultimately influencing the PG community across the Government of Canada. Effective partnerships and relationships are key: they must be built on a community of confident, knowledgeable, strategic, client-service oriented PGs.
Where Do We Go From Here?
With shifting expectations, staffing challenges, and scarce resources, contracting teams across the federal government may feel daunted. This is a thrilling time to be a PG: a time to effect real change and shape the future of the PG group. Working together, the community has the chance to rise to this challenge with optimism.
With leadership and support from the most senior levels, we can achieve this vision for a PG community: a vibrant, capable procurement function that protects the interest of the government, enables business, and is valued by clients as a partner.
Jessica Sultan is the Director of Strategic Procurement and Contracting Operations at the CBSA.