Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My name is Charlotte Bastien. I am the Director General of Field Operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I'm here today with my colleagues Elizabeth Douglas and Sandra Lambe.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to speak about veterans employment. It is an important topic, and we are pleased to provide an overview of what Veterans Affairs Canada does in that regard.
I'll start with Veterans Affairs programs and support, move on to the priority hiring act, and the hire a veteran initiative and finish by talking about Veterans Affairs Canada's partners in this file.
To provide some context, I want to mention that approximately 7,600 men and women are released from the Canadian Armed Forces each year. Men account for 86% of that figure, and women account for 14%. About 1,000 of them are medically released, and the average age at the time of release is 37.
Thirty eight percent of those individuals have five years of service or less, 22% between 6 and 20 years, and 37% between 21 and 35 years.
The majority of those who leave the reserve forces have already had a civilian job. The unemployment rate among veterans is on par with the Canadian rate—around 8%—and the unemployment rate among veterans released following service-related injuries....
As I was saying, the majority leaving the reserves would already have civilian employment. The unemployment rate for veterans is equal to the general Canadian rate—8%. The unemployment rate for veterans released due to injuries is about 15%.
Employment issues generally cluster around certain groups of veterans: younger veterans, those with fewer years of service, those in the lower ranks, and those who are medically released or involuntarily released.
The life after service study shows that 89% of regular force veterans released between 1998 and 2007 worked after release. The breakdown in numbers of veterans after release was as follows: 52.9% worked at a job or business; 20% worked at some point but were not currently working; 7.7% were looking for work; 10.3% were retired or not looking for work; 3.7% went from the regular forces to full-time work in the reserve force. The others included those who were not able to work, for example, because they were on disability, were caring for a family member, or were attending school.
Most veterans leaving the military reported adjusting well and beginning a normal life in the civilian world.
There are three key elements to VAC support in terms of employment: ensuring qualified veterans who wish to work at VAC have the opportunity to do so; providing benefits and services in a wide range of programs; and working with other government departments and not-for-profit and private sector groups to help people understand who our veterans are and what their needs are and to help develop opportunities to support veterans' employment needs.
Two key VAC programs to support releasing Canadian Armed Forces members are the career transition services and the vocational rehabilitation programs. In 2013 announced changes that give more than 1,300 veterans taking part in our vocational rehabilitation program greater flexibility to access the tools they need for their training, which will cut down on wait times related to vocational assessments.
As a result of these changes, an expanded list of training expenses, such as those for required computer software, electronic books, campus parking, and training equipment are now considered in individual vocational rehabilitation training plans. Veterans are now also able to claim individual vocational rehabilitation expenses through an overall program funding envelope to a maximum total value of $75,800 per person. In the last five years, 3,381 participants have accessed vocational rehabilitation and vocational assistance through our national contract. As of June 30, 2014 there were 1,355 active participants.
Career transition services help veterans and their survivors find civilian employment, and provide funding for related training and career services consultation. They are available for up to two years after a veteran's date of release from the Canadian Armed Forces. To date, 1,787 veterans have accessed the program. As part of Veterans Affairs Canada's initiative to cut red tape, the government has streamlined the service delivery model for the program by giving eligible veterans or survivors their choice of career transition services that best meet their needs. As well, VAC will reimburse up to $1,000.
VAC has also taken several steps to ensure that eligible veterans are able to apply for a position at Veterans Affairs Canada if they choose to. They have expanded the area of selection for job competitions to allow the largest number of Canadian Armed Forces personnel to apply; reviewed all the work descriptions in Veterans Affairs to assess which positions could benefit from Canadian Armed Forces experience; and added the relevant Canadian Armed Forces experience as an asset qualification to these positions.
We are working with the Public Service Commission and others to implement new legislation to support veterans seeking positions in the federal government. This initiative is called “Priority Hiring”.
The bill proposes to allow honourably released Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans to be given increased access to job opportunities in the public service.
The introduction of this legislation means that veterans whose medical release is deemed to be attributable to military service will be eligible for statutory priority hiring status in the federal public service.
Veterans who have been medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces will now be eligible for up to five years of priority hiring status in the federal public service. Veterans who have been honourably released and who have had at least three years of military service will now receive preference in external advertised federal public service employment processes. Canadian Armed Forces serving personnel and veterans who have been honourably released with at least three years of military service will now be able to view and participate in internal advertised public service employment processes.
As for the next steps, Veterans Affairs Canada is working with the Department of National Defence and the Public Service Commission to ensure that Canadian Armed Forces members and veterans will benefit from those changes when Bill comes into force. The changes will take effect once the bill has received royal assent—probably in 2015.
I will now go on to the hire a veteran program.
I will explain what this program is about.
Through the hire a veteran initiative launched in December 2012, Veterans Affairs Canada partners with corporate Canada to help veterans and releasing Canadian Armed Forces personnel find civilian jobs. The hire a veteran employer partners send their employment opportunities and/or links to career pages to us, and we share the posting with a network consisting of front-line staff, our national vocational rehabilitation service contractor, and the Canadian Armed Forces. These postings are then shared with job-seeking Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans.
The hire a veteran website includes information for both job seekers and employers. To assist releasing military personnel and veterans in finding employment, the website provides links to Employment and Social Development Canada tools, public service priority hiring information, and other relevant sites.
The hire a veteran website also provides information for employers regarding the value veterans bring to the civilian workforce and information on the Canadian Armed Forces, such as military ranks, occupation, training, and skills developed in the military. This information helps employers better understand the military culture from which our veterans are transitioning. Therefore, employers are better positioned to help these veterans integrate into the civilian workplace.
Through the hire a veteran initiative, over 160 employers have committed to hiring veterans. Here are some examples of our employer partners: Bell Canada, Target, Walmart Canada, Cenovus Energy, Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, Intuit Canada, Cabela's Canada, Mount Allison University, Queen's University, and the Canadian National Railway.
Our employer partners would be able to contribute a valuable perspective to your committee in its work. In particular, we would suggest that you consider inviting Bell Canada, Target, Intuit Canada, or the Canadian National Railway to appear before the committee.
To sum up, I mentioned our partners helping with this important file. To maximize civilian employment opportunities, Veteran Affairs works with the Canadian Armed Forces in partnership with two key non-profit organizations: the True Patriot Love Foundation and Canada Company.
The department's partnership with Canada Company is primarily through the military employment transition program, which is creating direct links between Canadian Armed Forces personnel, reservists, and veterans who are seeking jobs in the civilian workforce, and employer partners who want to hire transitioning military personnel and veterans for their valued skill sets.
Through the military employment transition program, employer partners are required to report on veteran hires through an employer partner memorandum of understanding. Approximately 180 veteran-friendly employer partners have committed to working together to help veterans and releasing Canadian Armed Forces personnel find civilian jobs.
Our other key non-profit partner is the True Patriot Love Foundation, which leads the Veteran Transition Advisory Council. Established by the Minister of Veteran Affairs, the council is mandated to identify challenges and barriers faced by Canadian veterans during the transition from military to civilian employment. The council includes representatives from leading national companies, who work to raise awareness of the skill sets that veterans have to offer the private sector.
In the fall of 2013, the Council made interim recommendations regarding the transition to civilian employment, and, as a result, the council established five working groups related to these recommendations. The working groups are focusing on a one-stop-shop web portal, a marketing campaign, supported employment, a veterans membership program, and certification.
This concludes our presentation. We would be pleased to take any questions.
I'm not going to lie to you: there are two questions in this.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Frank Valeriote: You'll catch on.
I spent very little time—five days—in the program that allowed me to join the forces out in Edmonton, and then five days in the program that allowed me to join the navy on HMCS St. John's, and I'm telling you, it was unbelievable. I couldn't believe the professionalism; I also could not believe the skills. I was overwhelmed with the skills, especially when I was in the armaments room on the ship and saw all the computers. It was just beyond me.
I look at the opportunities that our servicemen and -women are given when they leave, and I know you're only working with what you're given to work with. I understand that. But there are skills translation services out there that I know are used in the United States. I've seen them on computers in my office that have been brought to me, and they translate the skills of our servicemen and -women. When I was being shown that, I was thinking about what I saw on the ship and out in Edmonton, and my mind was shifting to materials management, leadership, human resources, logistics, computer software development, and transportation systems that school boards have to develop so their kids are moved around properly. These are skills that many people learn in our forces.
So I have to ask you about this. We're supportive of this legislation, but why would we restrict ourselves? You guys are in the position where you do this stuff. You eat, drink, and breathe this stuff every day. We don't. You do. Why would you not be looking at more effective skills translators that could be used to facilitate the proper translation and connection of those people? You mentioned it at the end in regard to the council that's looking at these four different areas, but I was listening for better skills translation as a fifth focus, and I never heard it. Why wouldn't you be looking at that so we could better help our servicewomen and -men into the skills of the present and the future?
My second question is, you didn't answer why the limitation period—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Frank Valeriote: No, he had two questions couched in his.
Why is it five years? Why a limitation at all? Why not no limitation?
Thank you for the question.
There are four key changes to Bill , the first of which is statutory hiring, and that is for all Canadian Armed Forces members who have been medically released and whose medical release is attributable to service. That then becomes the two five-year periods: the first one to deem eligibility and registration, after which comes the five-year period of entitlement.
Secondly, there is the regulatory priority. With regulatory priority, this bill extends the benefits from two to five years.
Thirdly, there is what we call “preference”. With preference, a veteran who has been honourably released, who also has a minimum of three years of service and is not employed indeterminately by the Public Service Commission, will receive preference for externally advertised Public Service Commission positions.
Fourthly, and finally, there is what we call “mobility”. With mobility, veterans, along with all Canadian Armed Forces members who have three years of service and veterans who have been honourably released and are not serving in an indeterminate position with the Public Service Commission, will now be able to view and apply for internally posted service positions with the Government of Canada.
That is how we meet the economic action plan 2014.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'm very pleased to be here today to discuss Bill , the veterans hiring act.
The Public Service Commission administers programs under the Public Service Employment Act to support the public service staffing system.
There are three important mechanisms in this bill, which will support the hiring of veterans and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Today, I'd like to walk you through the changes to all three of those mechanisms. The first is the priority entitlement for medically released veterans. These entitlements provide persons with a right to be appointed ahead of all others to any position in the public service for which they've been assessed and are found qualified. The second is a preference in a competitive process to appoint qualified veterans to jobs that are externally advertised. The third is the eligibility of current Canadian Armed Forces members, as well as veterans, to participate in all advertised internal hiring processes.
Under the current legislative regime, the PSC is responsible for administering priority entitlements, which have an extensive scope. They apply to jobs in all regions of Canada and in all organizations covered by the Public Service Employment Act.
Before filling a vacant position a manager must first consider priority persons. The PSC is responsible for referring potentially qualified priority persons to hiring managers. Managers are provided with a clearance to proceed with an appointment process only if the PSC is satisfied that there's no one in the priority system who meets the essential qualifications of those positions.
There are two different types of priority entitlements: statutory priorities and regulatory priorities. Statutory priorities take precedence over regulatory priorities. That determines the order in which they are referred to departments, and is the reason why the order of precedence is important.
Under the current system surplus employees occupy the top statutory priority for appointment in their own organizations. This means that they must be appointed to vacant positions for which they are qualified before a person with a regulatory priority. Medically released veterans currently have a regulatory priority. From 2008 to 2012, the appointment of medically released veterans had the highest rate of placement—72% of all priority groups. However, the implementation of the 2012 spending review resulted in more surplus employees entering the priority system and, as I have already mentioned, they are the ones who have top statutory priority.
In the summer of 2012, the PSC shared this information with the Department of Veterans Affairs on the impact that the influx of surplus employees, as well as the decrease in the staffing, was having on the placement of medically released veterans. At the request of that department, the PSC provided technical options to address the situation for their consideration.
Since April 2012, more than 2,000 priority employees have been appointed to vacant positions. The majority of these appointments were surplus employees. Over the same two years, 67 medically released veterans were appointed, compared with 307 appointed during the two previous years.
Under the proposed changes, qualified veterans who are medically released with a service-related injury or illness would become the top statutory priority with an entitlement period that has been extended from two to five years. In other words, they would be considered and, if qualified, they would be appointed before all others.
The legislation would amend the existing regulatory priority for those veterans medically released for non-service related reasons to extend the current entitlement period from two years to five years.
Once this legislation comes into force, the changes to the priority entitlement will apply retroactively to April 1, 2012. Once medically released, veterans have five years in which to activate their priority entitlement. The PSC believes that the amendments to the priority entitlements proposed in Bill will make a difference.
As well, we have made significant enhancements to strengthen the priority administration program to better respond to the needs of organizations and priority persons. For instance, we put in place a case management approach to work directly with medically released veterans to advise them of their entitlements and to assist them in their search for public service employment.
I would now like to turn to the veterans preference. The veterans preference is a different type of mechanism under the Public Service Employment Act. The proposed amendment would update the definition of a veteran to add modern-day Canadian Armed Forces members who are honourably released with at least three years of service. The proposed amendment would give veterans a preference, if found qualified, to positions that are open to the Canadian public. In this case, veterans would access the website jobs.gc.ca, where jobs are advertised externally, choose whether to apply for a position or positions, and enter a competitive process. This preference means that if these veterans enter a competitive process and are assessed and meet the essential qualifications, they must be appointed ahead of others in the appointment process. The ability to benefit from such a preference would be in effect for up to five years following their release from the Canadian Armed Forces.
To help provide context, during the past five years the PSC has seen an average of slightly more than 5,500 persons hired permanently into the public service through external job competitions. This represents about one in every six job competitions. During the same period, there were on average just over 31,500 internal staffing activities per year for comparison.
This brings me to the third mechanism, which will be changed to allow current armed forces members as well as veterans to participate in all advertised internal processes. Since 2005, deputy heads and their hiring managers have had the option of giving members of the Canadian Armed Forces access to internal job competitions, but this proposed amendment would make that mandatory.
This means that veterans and current Canadian Armed Forces members would have access to these opportunities, but once they apply, they would be treated the same as all other applicants.
Mr. Chair, these provisions apply only to organizations that come under the Public Service Employment Act. I understand that discussions are under way with several organizations as well that are not subject to the Public Service Employment Act. These organizations, which have regional operations, are exploring administrative ways in which they can also meaningfully participate in these efforts to find employment for veterans. Our experience shows there has been a high rate of success in placing medically released veterans in large operational departments with a broad geographic footprint. In a way, this corresponds to where many members of the Canadian Armed Forces are employed. The involvement of these organizations would increase the number of employment opportunities for veterans. The PSC is committed to supporting this process in any way that we can.
Mr. Chair, we will continue to do all that we can to ensure that entitlements of medically released Canadian Armed Forces members are fully respected and to support veterans, as well as current members, in bringing their valuable skills and experience to the federal public service.
I'd like now to answer your questions.
I'm going to repeat an earlier question that I put to Charlotte, Elizabeth, and Sandra from the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was with respect to a skills translator. You'll recall that I talked about my experience, being both with the military and the navy, and how professionally trained many of these men and women are, frankly beyond what I expected to see.
In my own mind, I could see them moving into materiel management. I've written them down: leadership, human resources, logistics, computer and software development, and understanding transportation systems that could be applied in school boards, etc.
I understand that the council is looking at four areas right now. I look at a skills translator. I think about the costs, frankly, the insignificant costs, of using an effective skills translator and aligning our armed force members, women and men, with the jobs that are out there, far more than public service jobs, and private sector jobs.
I've seen it in application in the United States. It just seems to be a more effective way of doing this. Goodness, I bless you for the work you're doing, and I'm not criticizing you, but why aren't we thinking outside of the box in which we tend to think right now? Can we? Are you the people I should be asking about this? If you are, what are we doing about it?
Thank you for the question.
I think it's fair to say that the commission does support the bill and thinks it will actually make a difference. As the entity that administers the program, these mechanisms will help us place more veterans and medically released veterans than it otherwise would have without the existence of this new legislation, if it's passed.
The one thing I would mention, as I did in my opening remarks, is that this legislation applies to entities that are subject to the Public Service Employment Act, which, if you look at the core public service, is approximately 200,000 positions out of a core public service of around 250,000 or so. Those are just estimates. There are a number of larger operational departments, like the Canada Revenue Agency, Parks Canada, and CFIA, as three examples, that would not be subject per se to this legislation because they're outside of the Public Service Employment Act. Having said that, I understand from talking to those departments and working with others that they are willing, through their own separate human resource regimes and legislation, to meet the spirit of intent of this legislation and to do their part in placing veterans.
The reason why I say that's important is that we know from our experience in administering the legislation to date that veterans tend to be in the regions of the country—and it's understandable that they seek employment in the various regions across the country—so the departments having broader footprints in the federal public service, I think, will make a great deal of difference to our overall success. Again, I was very pleased to know and talk to my colleagues and understand that they will also do their part, as I understand, in supporting the spirit and intent of this program.