Canadian Manufacturing

Public sector committed to attracting millennials to buck human capital issues

With higher retirement rates coming, the public sector needs to attract younger employees. According to a report from The Conference Board of Canada, new priorities and values are required across the board


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OTTAWA—Public sector organizations need to promote the purposeful nature of public service work and its social impact to become more attractive to millennials and Gen Z’s.

This is according to a new Conference Board of Canada report, which also warns of skill shortages and skill mismatches in the public sector in the coming years.

“The public sector’s ability to leverage its brand as a purpose-based employer has eroded in recent years and HR leaders are particularly concerned that attracting talent to the public sector has become more difficult as it competes against the private sector,” said Shannon Jackson, associate director, Leadership and Human Resources Research, The Conference Board of Canada.

Jackson continued, “With nearly half of its new hires expected to be millennials, HR leaders at all levels in the Canadian public sector need to differentiate the value of their organizations’ from the private sector to attract the right, high-quality talent to move forward into a challenging future.”

The report, Rethinking Public Sector HR: Canadian Executives Speak, identifies a number of human capital challenges that public sector organizations are currently facing, which include the need to build an optimum workforce in a period of demographic change.

A previous Conference Board survey of 150 Canadian human resources leaders confirmed that the public sector workforce is older than the private sector in all job categories. In addition, the average age of retirement is two years younger than in the private sector.

These two factors are expected to result in higher retirement rates in pubic sector organizations in the coming years.

However, the survey also revealed that more than half of responding organizations already reported difficulty recruiting quality candidates with essential skills.

The Conference Board says that public sector organizations have identified the need to rebrand as a priority, and that they want to highlight the value of public service as a calling—to set themselves apart from private sector employment and to make it a more attractive career for millennials.

Public sector organizations also want to redefine how work gets done, according to the report. This involves changing the mentality that processes are more important than outcomes; addressing out-of-date technology, poor career development paths and a lack of innovation; and the creation of a new organizational construct that is less hierarchical, more tech-savvy and more sensitive to employees’ needs.

The report also identifes that there is a desire in the public sector to change human resources culture, and change how HR departments are staffed, organized and operated.

Lastly, the public sector wants to support mentally healthy workplaces, offering more support to early-carrer employees.

The report is based on a roundtable discussion hosted by The Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with management consulting firm Aon Hewitt, in early 2017. The roundtable brought together 17 senior HR executives from public sector organizations across Canada.


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