Canada’s public service must do more to attract new talent, top official says

By on 09/05/2016 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, Canada

Canada’s public service “must do better to bring in more young talent” to cope with a generational change currently underway in the organisation, the government’s most senior official has said.

Writing in his first annual report to prime minister Justin Trudeau since becoming Privy Council clerk in January, Michael Wernick set out recruitment as one of the key priorities for the public service.

“We need to take a deliberate approach to finding, hiring, onboarding and developing people who have the right skills, combined with the right energy, values and passion for public service,” he said, adding that “we will press ahead in the coming year to address key gaps and vulnerabilities.”

He also said that the public service will “step up our pace with an ambitious programme of work to find, hire and successfully onboard new public servants, including medically released veterans, who have so much to contribute.”

Wernick’s view was echoed by the prime minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service – a group of eminent Canadians established by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2006.

The committee, chaired by business leader Rick Waugh, described recruitment as an “issue of continuing concern” in its report, which said that “recruitment policy, strategy and broad objectives should come from the centre, while selection should be done by line managers according to their specific needs.”

Other concerns set out by the committee were service delivery – learning from mistakes and achievements and “fostering a culture of service innovation”; performance management; and the challenge new social media platforms pose to officials “both internally and, appropriately, to engage Canadians.”

It noted that a move towards digital services presents both a key challenge for government and “tremendous opportunity” and appealed to public servants to work “to regain the reputation for service excellence that the public service once enjoyed.”

The committee also raised concern over the “complexity of the approval and accountability structures inside government”, adding that bureaucracy or “sometimes contradictory hierarchies of approval and accountability” represent a barrier to efficient working and “affect employee performance and job satisfaction and, as such, have an impact on mental and physical health.”

It welcomed “efforts to create a workplace environment where problems related to mental health can be recognised and addressed,” adding that “this is not only a matter of providing employees with the support they need, but it is equally an important step in reducing the personal and organisational costs of disability and absenteeism.”

Former clerk Janice Charette became one of the first top officials in Canada to make mental health in the workplace a top priority in her report to the prime minister published a year ago.

Following her report, “conversations on mental health and workplace wellness have been taking place like never before,” Wernick said in his report, which was published on Friday.

A joint mental health task force was established by the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which, he wrote, “has been an important achievement in addressing mental health challenges in the workplace.”

“For the first time, between 2015 and 2016, all deputy ministers [most senior public servants leading government departments] and executives in the public service were required to take action on this priority area as part of their performance agreements,” he said, promising that “we will achieve further progress this coming year with targeted and precise leadership commitments, which will be measured and reported on, so that we continue to learn and adapt our strategies.”

Wernick also called on the public service to consider “the needs of users, rather than our own” when designing and implementing public services; to improve its focus on results and outcomes; work across boundaries and to reinforce the policy profession.

He urged public servants “never to return to a time where policy was developed in splendid isolation from the operations and services that implement it, or the people affected by it.”

Responding to Wernick’s report, Trudeau said: “A modern, professional public service plays a vital role in our democracy.

“The clerk is taking important steps to renew this important institution.

“By working together, I am confident that we can build an even better, more capable, and effective public service – one that addresses the needs and expectations of the Canadians we serve.”


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See also:

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau announces new senior public service shuffle

Justin Trudeau announces senior appointment at Department for Indigenous Affairs

Coleen Volk, Government of Canada: Exclusive Interview

Government of Canada pledges creation of new central ‘results and delivery unit’

Janice Charette praises public servants’ ‘professionalism and dedication’

John Forster, Chief of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada: Exclusive Interview

Richard Fadden Canada’s top national security adviser retires from public service

Creating a truly ‘civil’ service

Looking after number one: prioritisation in government

Managing the EU Migration Crisis

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.


  1. Sharon Vien says:

    In order to create real change in refreshing the workforce you have to give the employers and incentive to hire students and recent graduates. Use the Public Service as a model and set a quota for all Deputy Heads to make x % of their new hires must be students or recent grads. Also – use succession planning strategies and manage knowledge transfer initiatives so that workers that are close to retirement are asked to devote time to train the new workforce.
    Also – stop the practice of allowing public servants to double dip – i.e collect full pension and return to the workforce in a new capacity. Otherwise we will never get young people in.

  2. David Costly says:

    The government is waking up, I see. I saw the first signs in my organization, SSC of the realization that <>. The example I saw was a Director retiring and then, coming back to the same position as a casual employee immediately after he retired. That is a prime example of how our government makes place for the new blood and promotes generational change.
    Do I sound cynical? Off course I do. The question is, who’s worse? Me being cynical or, the Director and the machine that supported his return and blocked promotion of younger employees who have not yet retired?

  3. Danny Wong says:

    Hiring takes forever.
    Firing takes the impossible.
    Processes is what needs to be fixed.
    Rewards and penalty is needed to spark growth.

  4. KriSan says:

    Excellent article which touches upon certain interesting points. One thing which is overlooked if the need for certain Linguistique profiled for positions which doesn’t make sense. Why would you select a inferior quality candidate with an ideal Linguistique profile in place of a highly superior candidates with a ok Linguistique profile. I know it touches upon the ‘sacred’ issue of bilingualism in the workplace… but at what cost?
    We can bring in talented people and then under-utilize those people because of archaic rules and regulations that do not serve a purpose.

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