Change Management
May 7, 2012

Talent wars: How to become an employer of choice

Like many employers, the Ontario Public Service (OPS) has a sizeable number of baby boomers retiring over the next few years. This will ignite a war for talent to attract the next generation of employees. Offering meaningful work and opportunities for growth and advancement will be more important than ever.

To win that war, an organization needs to have a vision for the future, plan the steps to get there, and continually evaluate how they’re doing.

Where do you want to be?
Our vision is to be the employer of first choice; for prospective employees to put the OPS on the top of their list of places they would like to work.

To get there, we need to have a vision of where we want to be as an organization, and then chart out the steps to achieve that vision. Five years from now we want to be one of the top three choices for places to work.

This started with a long-term plan for how we are seen as an employer, including moving away from being multiple single-ministry-focused employers to being a single employer. That means people choosing a career in the Ontario Public Service and not a job in, say, the Ministry of Government Services.

We’ve also created a secretariat devoted to attracting youth and new professionals – both recent graduates as well as seasoned professionals looking for a career change.

The Youth and New Professional Secretariat understands that it’s not just about filling positions, it’s about creating meaningful careers. Attracting the next generation is critical to maintaining a vibrant and vital public service.

The days have passed when a person would join an organization and stay on for the next 30 years. In my conversations with interns and other young professionals, they tell me that they are looking for varied experiences, meaningful work and the opportunity to learn and grow.

The public service is a place to build careers within your career. In recruitment, we’ve leveraged this by presenting several different career streams, a variety of places to work, and extensive learning and development opportunities.

We’ve also engaged our current employees to represent the OPS as an employer of choice. No one can better represent our organization than our employees, and we have 68,000 who can attest to the interesting work we do. Employees can provide powerful testimonials, especially for friends, colleagues and family, and speak to the fact that this is a great place to work.

We’ve pulled together this informal representation into a formal ambassadors program. Across the OPS, employees had already been doing a great job of representing our organization by attending career fairs, professional organizations and informational interviews, to name a few. We’ve harnessed that pride and enthusiasm in the OPS Ambassadors Program.  This program recruits and trains employees to be ambassadors at various events throughout the year.

Building engagement
The best employers have an engaged workforce: employees who are satisfied with their jobs and committed to their organization.

To improve job satisfaction and commitment to the organization, we first needed to understand how employees feel about working in the OPS, what drives their level of engagement and how we could keep improving the overall work environment.

We started with a biennial survey that gave every employee a chance to have his and her say. Listening to employees has become an important part of how we do business. We’ve taken the results of those surveys and acted upon them in a plan that focuses on improving organizational communications, strengthening leadership, providing opportunities for advancement, and learning and development.

Strengthening diversity
To be an employer of choice in Ontario, our workforce needs to be inclusive and reflect at all levels of the organization the diversity of the communities we serve. This is more meaningful than employment equity and affirmative action.

Our diversity goal is to create an organization that is inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible for all our employees. An inclusive organization is one that reflects Ontario’s population at every level and one that welcomes, celebrates and nurtures talent in all forms.

Over the past year, we’ve made some progress. We’ve appointed a chief diversity officer and established the Diversity Office. We’ve also established employee networks and an external diversity advisory committee to help us chart a course for the future. We’ve set up a mentorship program where all deputy ministers and the Secretary of the Cabinet mentor at least three individuals.

We’re off to a good start, but this is a commitment that will take some time to fully realize. It’s not a single event, but a journey in changing the way we work.

Signposts of progress
How do we know when we’ve become an employer of choice?

I’m proud to say that we’ve received recognition as a top employer: this year the OPS was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, one of the GTA’s Top 75 Employers, and one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers.

This external recognition tells me, and hopefully all employees, that although we are not yet perfect, we are seen by others to be one of the best employers in the public, private and non-for-profit sectors. Being recognized as a top employer provides external validation that we are making progress.

That recognition encourages future employees to consider the OPS as a place where they can build great careers working with great people.

External recognition is important, but from my experience in both the private and public sectors, I’ve learned that how our employees think we’re doing is more important yet.

An employee survey is an excellent tool for measuring employee job satisfaction and commitment to an organization. Recent survey results tell us we’ve moved up on the employee engagement index over the past couple of years.

This means that we’ve improved in both satisfaction and commitment. As we increase employee engagement we know we’re closer to reaching our vision.

By striving to become an employer of first choice, we’re attracting talented individuals and building a stable, engaged and well-managed workforce – which is paramount to providing the best public services possible. It’s also critical for meaningful, vital public service now and in the future.

Ron McKerlie is Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Government Services.

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