Colleagues, I'll call this meeting to order. I have one quick housekeeping item before we commence with our witnesses.
We anticipate bells to start ringing at 5:15 this afternoon. Normally, our practice, once the bells start, is to immediately suspend or adjourn and go to the vote. However, since we have a full complement of witnesses, both in person and by video conference, I'm looking for unanimous consent, if we can achieve that, to extend our meeting by perhaps up to 10 minutes. In other words, to go from 4:30 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. That should still give us 20 minutes to get from our meeting room here to West Block for votes.
Do I have unanimous consent to extend the meeting, if needed, for an extra 10 minutes?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Thank you for the opportunity.
I'm Brian McKenna and I'm a retired warrant officer. I'll offer my advice, but I'll describe a situation first.
I have a friend who was in a reconnaissance platoon in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. He taught on mountain operations courses. I watched him once for over an hour, as he and three others built a rope installation over a river that would eventually be traversed by a company. More than a hundred soldiers would cross that. That responsibility was enormous.
His ability to do math during his inspections and figure out which riggings could handle which number of kilonewtons of force, while he was harnessed and suspended in air, was impressive. This is all on top of his ability and proven capacity to lead a group of eight men and a multi-million dollar fighting vehicle in a war zone. He has administered health care to them, counselled them on shortcomings and supported warriors in their family struggles. He has led them in every aspect of their 24-hour lives in combat, for six months straight. He has a high school education.
Every department of this government that deals with stress, risk assessment and personnel management should ideally be fighting over who gets him. We spoke last week. He's still looking for work. What are we going to do about it?
I think one of the issues for transition, and in this regard, possibly transitioning to a job in other federal departments, is often that the policy seems to create a two-team presentation. There's the civil service and there's the Canadian Forces. Whether true or not, it can appear that a transition from fisheries to CBSA, or for someone working at the Canada Revenue Agency who decides to join, and is hired by, the Mounties, is done one way, with benefits and time served counted one for one.
Yet for someone transitioning from the military to another department of the federal civil service, there are formulas, considerations and decisions to be rendered. One of the things that would ease transition would be to ease peace of mind on transfer values. If working at Foreign Affairs for eight years means eight years of civil service time if you get taken on by Health Canada, service in the military for a continuous eight years should require no more calculations than that. Yet there are calculations and formulas, and that creates doubt and hesitation.
Next, I'd like to speak about equivalency, or in this regard, the objective versus the subjective. A natural place for hiring veterans, for example, should be Veterans Affairs. When veterans look at hiring opportunities, often their biggest hurdle is education. Certainly, we have folks in the military with multiple diplomas and degrees, but we also have folks who have managed some of the toughest and most challenging situations in life and may have actually taken more courses in the military than most civilian programs. On paper, though, they have a high school diploma.
Job descriptions generally say that you need a degree, with some mention that military experience may be considered equivalent. However, coming from the government, soldiers know that the objective is easier to score than the subjective. Who decides if a 20-year warrant officer in the infantry has the experience necessary to meet an unknown person's subjective standard of what “may be equivalent”?
I suggest to you that for releasing members of the Canadian Forces, particularly the injured, part of the release six months out should be an assessment and a real answer to that question. Exactly what is it that I have? Exactly what does someone reading my application believe I have? Where do I score on the “may be equivalent” chart? Perhaps this solution exists.
There's a post-secondary institute in B.C., BCIT, which has a program working with the Legion to assess a soldier's current skills and see what credit they can write off for their business program. That soldier is then advised of how many more credits are needed. This idea would be a great start, but embedded in the military chain of command, through the chief of military personnel.
I think our goal should be that the retiring soldier and the hiring staff of the department know exactly what it is this soldier's experience and training are worth before the soldier applies.
I'll make one more point before I end. It's on terminology.
As a soldier, I hated it when a concept would stay the same, but the next year it was called something different because someone had a great idea about terminology. If you ask an infantryman and an engineer and a chemical weapons detection specialist to clear a building, you'll get different action on the word “clear”. Lexicon matters, especially in the world of human resources vetting and algorithms, some of which is done by machines.
Perhaps military courses such as the advanced leadership qualification should be called project management, because that's one of the things it is. The military prefers the term “leadership” over “management”, because that's what commanders do; they lead. However, “management” is the term the real world uses when it describes a capacity to supervise, teach and administer subordinates.
I also think we need an honest review of education requirements and whether they match the job description or prohibit application from veterans who've served since they were 18. Does every job you are advertising really need that education qualification that is specified, or is there a chance it needs updating?
For example, again at Veterans Affairs, the job of a veterans case manager requires a degree in the study and assessment of human behaviour, whereas their biggest role is understanding military medical information and helping that veteran access benefits from the federal government. A qualification as a military medic or a military resource management specialist ought to be the most highly sought after qualification for that job. Those that have worked in the joint personnel support unit, for example, have worked with these exact clients, these exact veterans and their issues in uniform. Why is a social work degree considered better than that qualification?
There are around 100 different jobs in the military. The human resource specialists in the other federal departments should be ordered to look at each of those job tasks to see if it is the mirror image of a job in their own department. If so, an exemption for those personnel should be granted.
Currently, there seems no shortage of places that a colonel or an admiral can get hired. Everyone seems to grasp what they do. We need to develop realistic goals to have the same opportunities for healthy master seaman who have led boarding party teams and wounded sergeants who have cared for and led soldiers as they build rope bridges and breach wire obstacles. We need the human resources departments to understand why they want that veteran, and we want that veteran to retire from the forces knowing exactly what it is the rest of the federal government thinks they are qualified for.
Thank you for your time.
My name is Jacques Fauteux and I am the director of government and community relations at VIA Rail. I am also a lieutenant-commander in the Canadian Forces. I have also had the honour and pleasure of serving other veterans in the Canadian Forces, the Department of National Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I am pleased to appear today with my colleague Ziad Nader, director of human resources and information. He is joining us in this session by videoconference.
As a non-agent Crown corporation, VIA Rail provides Canadian travellers with a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible rail service. Thanks to our customer-centric approach, we've seen unprecedented revenue and ridership growth. I would say that some of this is by virtue of the work we do with the military and the veterans community.
In 2018, more than 4.8 million Canadians chose to leave their cars behind to take the train, a million more than four and a half years ago. This increase of over a million passengers, or 30% in ridership growth, is directly related to our commitment to employees. I would again include people like me, who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces and are veterans. Last year, we celebrated our 40th anniversary of service to Canadians, and service is what brought me to VIA: serving my country.
Since the beginning, VIA Rail has maintained a tradition of supporting our military community, and these ties grow stronger every day. Today, VIA works to improve the well-being of active military members, veterans and their families, and members of the defence department, with a strategy that is based on three pillars: train ticket-based rebates, partnerships and veteran and reservist employment, on which I will speak.
These three pillars are supporting each other with respect to the strategy for us to improve the state of those people who protect our values here at home and abroad. This strategy is how we deliver concrete actions to make a positive impact for that community.
The first pillar is to provide a 25% discount on the best available fare to Canadian Forces members, veterans and their families so they can travel anywhere in the country at a lower cost. The result is that 300,000 trips have been completed since the initiative was launched. In 2018, there was a 25% increase across the country.
With respect to our partnerships, which is our second pillar, VIA Rail actively participates in the activities of the approximately 40 organizations with which we work. Some of them, including Treble Victor Group, help military members find jobs, while others, such as Wounded Warriors Canada, help them make the transition to civilian life.
The missions of these groups are diverse. They range from promoting the development and well-being of military families to training and transition to civilian life. There is also the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, which promotes the advancement of women in the Canadian Forces.
In the spirit of the chair's desire to get to the point, I will point to the fact that we've recently been awarded a celebration of service award from a multi-parliamentarian group that recognized the work we do as tangible steps in helping military community members join our ranks, the ranks of a civilian organization that still serves Canadians.
Today, VIA Rail is proud to report that we have four times more military members and veterans than we had in 2014. Whether veterans or reservists, these 87 VIA Rail employees—and I'm one of them—form a true community within our organization.
These military members and veterans are making a difference. My colleagues, and I'm talking about my civilian, non-veteran, non-military colleagues, have nothing but praise—and I would hope you would ask questions to Monsieur Nader about this—as far as their performance is related.
Thanks to the June 2016 adoption of a policy for military reservists, which we have also won an award for from the Canadian Forces, we've been able to bring some of that expertise to serving members who will eventually become veterans when they decide to leave the reserve force.
These benefits and this investment in our men and women are unparalleled. I'll give you one example. We have one person who is a reservist, who works in Montreal with vehicles. He works on tanks and armoured personnel carriers. He brought us this small technology. He basically said it's an iPhone. It has open software technology that enables us now—after we transferred it to VIA Rail—to better manage our fleet of trains. It gives our locomotive engineers all the data they could have had previously in a legal-sized case, which any military or political staffer brings on Parliament Hill, in an iPhone.
Guess what. That was $300,000 in savings for a $50,000 investment in technology. That one week of leave that we gave to that person cost us $1,200. The return on investment is unparalleled.
Our staffing needs are considerable and we are looking to hire 600 to 800 new employees per year. Given the nature of our operations, we value military skills in several positions that are a great fit for veterans who want to continue to serve Canadians.
I would like to highlight our recent partnerships with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Women in Defence and Security, and the new Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group led by General Misener.
Together with them and with the Department of Veterans Affairs, we can make a difference. We have already begun to encourage other crown corporations to do the same, and we are working with BDC and EDC to share our knowledge.
As a veteran, I'm very grateful that the Crown has given me an opportunity to serve, and on behalf of all the employees at VIA Rail and my colleague Ziad Nader, I'd like to thank you for your time.
Good day and thanks for having me. I am truly humbled.
I'll begin by saying a few things about myself. My name is Sergeant Matt Harris. I'm 47 years old. I'm married with two teenage children. I'm currently a reservist and a veteran. I joined the reserves right after high school. My plan was to be a reservist in college, and I was going to join the regular force or get out of the army all together after college.
About 27 years later, I still serve as a reservist. I'm an infanteer and I began instructing when college was over in 1995. I did class A and class B work for the military. I then deployed to Bosnia for six months in 1998 after completing four months of selection, which was for class C. I came home after that tour, taught some more in the infantry to pass on my experiences and got married.
In March of 2001 I was hired on by CCRA, Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, now known as CBSA or Canada Border Services Agency. I also remained a reservist, being promoted to the rank of sergeant. I like to believe that my experiences in the reserves and my time in Bosnia helped me get the job as a customs inspector, although I'm not entirely sure.
The leadership at CBSA had no issues with my maintaining my second job as an infantry sergeant. They allowed me to change shifts and take military leave from time to time to maintain my skill set.
In September 2007 I asked for extended military leave to go on tour to Afghanistan. I had no problems at all getting that leave. I returned home in April 2009 and went right back to work with CBSA. Then in May 2010, I left again to go back to Afghanistan. I returned from that third tour in December 2010. CBSA seemed proud of my time away. My leaders and colleagues kept in touch and helped out my wife during Christmas. I maintained my seniority by paying for benefits and my pension.
I continued my military training as a class A reservist and still do this to this day. I do still get support from CBSA. The support I've received and continue to receive from my CBSA family, peers and managers alike, has been great. I like to believe that my experience with the military has not only helped me but has also helped out CBSA.
In 2012, your soldiers were given a bit of a bonus when we were told that some of our time as class B or class C reservists was added on to our time and we were granted more vacation and seniority. However, in June 2018, seniority for your soldiers was taken away. Your former and current soldiers serving in the CBSA have all been affected.
For me as a soldier, serving my country has always seemed like the most honourable thing to do. It gives me great pride to continue to serve, regardless of my age and my weary bones. As a soldier, I've seen and experienced great inspiration, gut-bursting laughter, incredible fear and soul-destroying sadness.
I tell people that I've served with the military and that being part of CBSA has been fantastic. If there is one area in which I believe it could improve and it could bring in more veterans to serve in the public service, it would be to respect the time we have served in the Canadian Armed Forces, which means regular force and classes A, B or C, and by allowing us to have that time recognized for vacation, as well as seniority. The public service seems like a natural extension of the service we provide Canada. One of the biggest incentives for veterans would be to have that time recognized.
There are hundreds of former and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have dedicated and continue to dedicate their lives and free time to contribute to the safety and security of Canadians at home and of our interests abroad. All we ask for is a small but important change to the policy that allows us to be equals with our colleagues within the public service who can carry over service and seniority.
I'll sign off by quoting my regimental motto, Non nobis sed patriae, which is Latin for “Not for us, but for our country”.
Thank you very much.
First and foremost, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak this afternoon.
My name is Emily Rowe. I've been employed by CBSA for the last five years.
At the end of my grade 12 year, I witnessed a Griffon helicopter land on the football field of my high school as part of a recruiting campaign for the infantry reserves. It didn't take a month before I convinced my mother to sign on the dotted line to allow me the honour of becoming an infanteer. I stayed in the reserves for five years, after which I joined the Royal Canadian Navy regular force and was employed as a naval combat information operator. I completed 12 years of service and received a Canadian Forces Decoration medal for service.
In 2014, I made the move from the military to the public service. This transition was not easy, nor was the decision to leave the military. I was in search of a more stable life and being closer to family, and I had a desire to have a career that would be an extension to my service in the military.
I've noted some issues that would make hiring CAF members less stressful and entice great candidates to the CBSA.
The hardships of training in Rigaud are a turnoff for many people. To leave a $70,000 to $80,000 career is a risk. People in dual-income families cannot afford the sacrifice. Unpaid training is very difficult, and the $125 per week allowance that the recruiting promises comes only every six weeks, so it is very misleading and prevents recruits from being able to plan financially for a period of absence from their families. Also, the random process for port selection is intimidating for members who are striving to achieve more stability for their families.
In the Canadian Armed Forces, 25 years of service provides a full pension with no penalty. This was a huge consideration for me. I had to give up many years of pensionable time to transfer. As well, I am five years in with the public service and I was told that my transfer was not a priority as I will not be retiring soon. Knowing the amount of time transferred is valuable for me in creating a financial plan for my future.
I have always been proud of my military service. When I arrived at my port of entry, I learned that I could submit my MPRR—record of service—to receive the same level of vacation that I had worked for in the military and to enhance my seniority number on the vacation leave and line selection bidding lists. This was a huge bonus, as I had worked very hard to achieve a rank and record with the federal government.
What I'm about to share with you now is the most egregious of all deficiencies. In 2014, I was hired with someone with whom I've become friends. He transferred from the Coast Guard. He and I were afforded the same respect, and I took my place right behind him on the seniority list. Four years later, in June 2018, seniority for soldiers was taken away. My peer retains his position on the seniority list, but I have fallen over 50 positions on a list of 120 people.
I am constantly approached by comrades I served with who are looking for more information about my new career with CBSA. I tell them that I am happy with my career change. I also have to tell them, with shame, that their service doesn't count. It doesn't count for seniority and it doesn't equate pension-wise, and they may be uprooted once again, with their families, to a remote isolated port.
I have recommendations.
Provide an environment for solid candidates to learn in and to not have worry about incidental costs while training. At a minimum, pay the indicated $125 per week every week.
Entice members of the Canadian Armed Forces with an edge on port selection. Signing bonuses are often offered in lower-staffed occupations within the government. Offer the first three choices to veterans.
Realize that CBSA is a law enforcement service and our pensions should be in line with those of other law enforcement services. Strengthen the response to pension transfers to allow responsible financial planning for Canadian Armed Forces members who have a transfer value.
The main reason why I have made this committee appearance a priority is to ask for respect for our time that we served in the Canadian Armed Forces—regular forces and reserve classes A, B and C—by allowing us to have the time recognized for vacation and seniority. We have served and continue to serve this country. A change in policy would allow us to feel equal to our peers, those who transferred from other departments of the public service and can carry over their service and seniority.
Thank you for your time.
In my personal experience and among the folks around me who I speak with there have been some advancements. I'm speaking to you today, and one of the things the veterans have been asking, for years, is for access to other departments that affect us. The fact we're here is part of that progress.
I just want to caution people whenever they have another idea for Defence that Defence is real busy. This town right now is under water. We have people all across the globe, and every time I think I know where we're going next I'm generally wrong. It might be a country we don't even have on a radar right now. Defence has to be obsessed with the next problem in that regard. To be fair to them with what they have to do around the globe, and what they're doing around the block from you right now, they're real busy and anything in this regard is going to be a distant priority.
It kind of has to be. I'm not trying to say they're giving it lip service. They're doing what they can, but they also need direction and assistance from people like us to let them know what's missing. I'm suggesting that as the process for being released happens there are noticeable benchmarks. Without knowing every case across the forces, I can tell you that they don't release people without at least six months of warning, particularly if it's a medical release. That's not a lot of time, but that is some time to do some of the things that I've mentioned. That's where I would like to see progress.
In answer to your question, sir, I have seen them do things, but I'm also very aware of where their priorities have to be. It should be managed by Veterans Affairs, but I believe this should also be something in the mandate letter of whichever minister gets the file on intergovernmental affairs. You have to see that, as a soldier, it's good that Defence is aware of us, but that's looking in the past. In helping us look to the future whether it's jobs or housing, or anything along those lines, we generally need involvement from there as well. That's my opinion on that, sir.
I think it's really a matter of working with people who have already done the work in the past.
We have learned from Amtrak, from the resources the company had put in place. We have found partners such as the defunct Canada Company, which is being replaced by a group of various organizations.
We have to spread the word.
The reason we did it at VIA Rail was that VIA can't be dictated to by the government with respect to it's independent Crown corporation role. We can't dictate like the law for departments with respect to hiring of military members, but we surely can lead the way so that we can encourage, from a public policy perspective, other federal organizations to get into the same space. I think that's what's happening with other departments.
The military members normally have a pretty tight network. That's why it works in platoons, or whatever system that we have in the navy, army or air force, but when you get the word across it's just about being able to translate what a military member's expertise is. That's where Mr. Nader comes in with his team in translating that information to the HR process. There is some measure of willingness.
I would like to see something that is a combination of specialists from admissions from post-secondary institutions, because they generally wind up working in this space. I also think that a little bit of a review, department by department, could go along with that.
I mentioned in my comments, for a reason, the advantage we see with something like the folks at BCIT, but then also there's the limitation that it is one program, one school and one province. I would data mine those people right now. That is a program that works very well, and it works very well for what it does. I think the Legion was one of the anchors behind it. I have to give them credit for that, so something along those lines....
We do need to make sure accreditation in this country is still respected. That's what the military member wants. Members want to know that their plumbing ticket counts. They're not trying to discredit the concept of accreditation in their field.
I'm reticent to hand it to business. While I respect business, often business just comes from the perspective of its own business. We've seen that before with a lot of different.... Folks come forward knowing their particular background of how to get someone hired at a sugar refinery or whatever it may be. I really think we need to combine the skill that's already there and the people who are already doing this, and approach it from that point of view.
I also think buy-in needs to be had at the unions of the different places we're looking for these folks to be hired. It is something we have to be aware of, that you can have acceptance through the hierarchy and yet push-back at that level, too.
First of all, as I mentioned in my opening statement, I think exposure to military members' success is an example of success breeding success, and when that happens it is good to see the reservists.
My colleague Ziad Nader agreed to go on an ExecuTrek, which is a trip to enable non-military people to be exposed to the military environment. What better occasion to actually create a rapprochement between two groups, precisely to enable them to better understand the dualities.
In the end, we realize that we both serve Canada, and though one learned it in a very harsh environment—be in it Constance Bay here in Ottawa or in Afghanistan—when it's time to move the train, safety is a priority, leadership is a priority and service to clients is a priority, and you wear a uniform as well.
I'm not sure whether Ziad Nader wants to add anything else, but that's what I'm proposing to the president.
So, they have not advertised it enough.
On another issue, you have a friend, Mr. McKenna, who doesn't have a job. The director general of human resources at Veterans Affairs said that at the Invictus Games applications were brought and people who were hired didn't want to be employed with whatever department it was.
Is there some gap in understanding what a veteran needs and the skill sets that could be translated to whatever jobs. When you leave the military, you receive six months advance notice, is there any career counselling that takes place to say, “Here is how you can transition”? Does VIA Rail come and say, “Come to me”, or does anybody come and say, “Here is what's available”, whether in the private sector or elsewhere?
The skill sets you talked about, anybody would die for the skill sets that were accumulated. There is a huge disconnect. What would you suggest?
I have an idea that I want to bounce off you.
My background is in consulting. I look at issues and then I ask whether there is a solution that I could put forward.
I'm listening to the transfer of values. I'm listening to equivalency, education. I am seeing a set of skills on one side and a set of requirements and job availability on the other side within the Crown corporations.
Do you think it's value-added if a mapping exercise is done that says that veterans with this qualification fit into jobs such as this, and we create the pool? Then we create a concept that we've used in our government before, such as the pods concept, where we pair ex-military veterans with the HR manager who's doing the hiring and uses this pool of veterans that are coming in, uses that mapping and tries to make sure that the priority is then adhered to, therefore making it much easier for the veterans to not only get the equivalency but also get the jobs.
What are your thoughts on that?
I think that's one of the ways to go. Also, on top of that, you will find throughout the federal government that we all obey the same Treasury Board laws. We all have the same equitable hiring practices.
You'll also find—I'll take a guess here—that the other folks on the screen with me here, probably this gentleman here, have done a purchasing course for the government at some time, because it's the same one. They've probably done a harassment prevention course, which is the same one. They've done all these things.
Something that does what you're speaking of, sir, would be very helpful, but also the fact that there are resource management specialists in the branch at which these folks work. Why wouldn't they, almost from a predatory point of view, be trying to hire people with that skill set from defence?
Therefore, yes, it's really a struggle when you look at how this is still being held back.
To all our witness, first of all, thank you for your appearance here today. Secondly and quite obviously, thank you for your service to our country. It is greatly appreciated, always has been and always will be.
Lastly, should you have additional information that you think would be useful to our committee as we continue our study on the hiring practices to get more veterans into the public service, any suggestions would be very much appreciated. I would encourage you to submit those directly to our clerk. Those suggestions or recommendations, should you have additional ones, will help form part of our final report.
Once again, thank you for being here.
Colleagues, we will suspend for just a few moments while we set up for our next video conference and our next panel of witnesses.
The meeting is suspended.
After their history of service, Canadian veterans deserve the opportunity to transition with ease and full government support into civilian life, which includes suitable and satisfying employment. Employment, in particular, serves more benefit than simply financial gain. It offers purpose, support and social connection—all of which offer greater care to our deserving veterans than simply offering medical provisions. In fact, fulfilling employment offers a proactive approach to countering the negative ramifications of a person experiencing trauma. This not only adds to their economic contribution, but diminishes external resource requirements.
Veterans may not return to civilian life as they had left it. They may possibly be compromised physically and/or emotionally. After sustaining such injuries, veterans would require additional considerations to transition into a future world of work.
It is those who have sustained disabilities from service who have been primarily left behind. Federal officials have been candid in realizing this deficit. Therefore, we have this committee assessment. As these disabilities have been attained through service to our government, it is, therefore, our government's honourable duty to rectify and remediate those deficits as best they can. Gender nuance has been somewhat addressed and accepted, and ableism requires similar attention.
Limited services to help assess skill sets to aid in this transition are being launched in academia with the initiative and guidance of people like Dr. Kevin Wainwright, whose tools can be used at BCIT to adapt military learning to civilian vocations. He has shown that such skills are indeed transferable, with accessible and moderate upgrades in training.
Current hiring practices in both public and private sectors refuse to address the intersectionality of employment of persons with disabilities, specifically physical disabilities due to injury. There is limited acceptance of the belief that these persons are indeed capable of productivity. Such discriminatory bias is deeply cultural as there is little example to prove otherwise. Without encouraging this sector of employable individuals, there is resistance to investing in the modifications required to accommodate.
Therefore, it is the public sector's duty to lead in example and in the practical development of modified infrastructure that encourages inclusion, both in the design and execution of change in space and culture. It is always a government obligation to lead in such forms of social justice. Private sector can then be encouraged to follow suit through example and proof of success.
What this would look like in implementation would be that public workplaces should be required to be upgraded to accommodate varying levels of physical ability. They would be HR trained to be cognizant of such things as sensitivities and triggers and to gain understanding of PTSD, for example.
There are many benefits to employers, employees and those served by the public sector when building on inclusive hiring practices that hire those of differing abilities and life experiences, such as veterans. For instance, public sector occupation offers stability and support, including medical benefits, for healthy futures and participation in civilian economies. The structure and hierarchy of the public sector is well suited to a military-trained mindset. Established public sector systems readily provide training opportunities within each context, which are ideally adaptable for ease of transition. Veterans might potentially experience continued pride in serving one's country.
The public would see employees with varying abilities and the culture of work would normalize the presence of the otherwise abled, leading to other inclusive actions. This would continue to shift perspective regarding usefulness, thus offering the private sector a subsequent understanding of the resources available through optimizing the skills of retired service personnel.
Government would benefit from having those who they service more effectively served by those who reflect them, their needs and their experiences through shared understanding and empathy.
Also, data suggests that such efforts mimic similar data on gender inclusion, which reflects increased productivity and profitability for the inclusive employer. Until inclusive hiring practices are commonplace, those given the chance to prove their worth in public service tend to show heightened commitment and loyalty. Practically speaking, initial training was at great investment and that investment will not wash away if redirected.
Career transition services are expected to budget millions annually, with the number of those affected multiplying exponentially year by year. With thousands readying to return to the workforce, thousands will be available for placement. It is radically pigeonholing to assume that persons with disabilities can only manage simple tasks. That is overwhelmingly false. It is merely that those abilities have not had the opportunity to be proven in a larger context.
Studies show that it is necessary to educate employers on the abilities of the disabled, as current stigmas lead to misinformation and inaccurate understandings. This leads to the failure to hire qualified candidates, due to perceived lack of qualification. In the end, beyond raising the GDP, deterring unhealthy behaviours that may manifest in profound medical costs, and promoting diverse and productive communities with a place for all—beyond all that—it is just the right thing to do.
Thank you to the committee members for your attention to this concern.
Colleagues, just before we move on, unfortunately, as much as we appreciate Ms. Gibson's presence with us here today, she may be the only witness we have.
We've experienced great difficulty getting Master Corporal Grabowski from Whitehorse via video conference. We're still attempting that, but it doesn't look like we're going to be very successful. We just got word that Madam Sadler, from the office of the assistant deputy minister at National Defence, will not be able to join us today, and we have not yet located Mr. Crego.
What I'm saying, colleagues, is that the witness before us may be the only witness we have. Having said that, we'll go into seven-minute rounds of questioning. We'll go as long as we have questions for the one witness we have with us.
We'll start with Mr. Peterson for seven minutes.
Mr. Peterson, we have you on our list as number one.
As mentioned, I believe it's leading by example.
You can't see under the table, but I come with a set of wheels myself, and I've done fairly okay in my world of work. However, many of my peers have struggled to find their place. They have struggled despite Ph.D.s, master's degrees and other such qualifications to be considered. In fact, according to Ontario statistics, I am currently valued at 44¢ on the dollar, which I find rather objectionable, as I believe that my worth is far more than the value of my legs.
Veterans coming out of the military context and into the civilian context would benefit quite strongly from offerings from the public service of a more welcoming culture, and that's exactly what it is—a changing culture—that needs to happen. Our government needs to be the first to step forward and say that these millions of people across Canada, who perhaps have different abilities that you can see a little more readily than others, are worthy to contribute to our economies.
First, I would like to thank the standing committee members and staff for the opportunity to appear today by video conference.
I feel I have a distinct and unique perspective coming from the north, specifically from Whitehorse, Yukon.
I'm going to speak today on behalf of myself as an individual, a veteran and my experiences trying to gain employment through the federal Public Service Commission.
I have expertise in both the regular and reserve force of the Canadian Armed Forces as a junior leader, with service over 10 years. Professionally, I have 22 professional years being in one form of the public service or another. Municipally, I worked with the Government of Yukon and with the Canadian government.
I've been a private and a master corporal in the military, a customs officer, a full-time police officer all the way up to an acting assistant deputy minister with the Government of Yukon. I feel I have a breadth of depth and knowledge, competencies, formal education, training and courses.
I think one challenge that modern-day veterans have is considering themselves, first off, as a veteran. It took me a long time to acknowledge that I was a veteran. I always thought about my grandfather who served in World War II, or those in Korea, or older persons who have served, as veterans. That can certainly be a challenge.
Are you a veteran? When that question is asked, you will probably find that a lot of the answers would be no. The better question probably is, did you serve? Have you served Canada? From that point, I would consider respectfully that people would say yes they have or no they haven't.
My experience applying online for federal positions is that it's a complex process. For veterans without any physical or mental operational stress injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, it can be a frustrating application process in and of itself. It's long and overly laborious. There's a lot of redundancy as well in the federal application process online. There are sometimes 10 to 12 steps, and I can get into that probably a little later.
Those with post-traumatic stress disorder like me find the application process very challenging. It can be frustrating so that at certain points you almost want to hit the close button in the corner of the screen and just walk away. Again, there is a lot of redundancy that I believe doesn't need to be there. That's definitely one consideration.
In the Yukon, my understanding is that there are approximately 250 federal public service employees. On the job board, I have what's called mobility hiring, but I don't have priority hiring because back when I released originally, there was no such thing as the Veterans Hiring Act. It is my understanding there were amendments in 2015.
Although I have mobility hiring and I can see now internal federal positions, there is very little in the Yukon. I believe there are lots of people who come to the Yukon for various reasons, who seek employment with the federal government and they retain their employment. Therefore, the opportunities, certainly from my perspective, at least in the Yukon, and it would likely be comparable to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, are limited. Being here, there would be a desire for the Public Service Commission to look at how they can hire local veterans or those within the community.
I know that Veterans Affairs Canada certainly has an interest in hiring veterans, both former RCMP officers and military members. I know that there's a backlog of over 40,000 disability award and disability pension applications that need urgent processing. A fellow like me, as I mentioned, based on my experience, for whatever reason cannot get screened in to the very basic entry-level positions with Veterans Affairs Canada. That's one example. That can be frustrating.
I will finish quickly but I want to talk about about the redundancy aspect within the application process. One of the first steps is to upload your CV or resumé online. With a lot of work and craft, that is done, but further on in the process there's an additional education tab where an applicant can spend a lot of time updating or providing their educational background, which university or formal institution they attended, when, where, whether they were a graduate, what credentials they received. That's a second component within the application process.
One of the most frustrating experiences is the screening questions in and of themselves. They can be quite long and be asking for a lot of information that has already been provided. Again, this is separate from the resumé and this is separate from the education tab, which is full of information. These are almost a third step in the application process online where it says, “Have you graduated from a recognized post-secondary institution?” There are questions like, “Do you have experience as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces?”
Thank you very much to you both for your testimony here today.
I just want to follow up on that last point very quickly, Mr. Grabowski, and just ask the question.
Do you think it would be helpful, when a veteran applies for a job and isn't hired, if they were able to contact the department and ask for a reason or what they might have done differently on their application in order to see more success? At what level should that happen?
Would it be helpful if they could do that on the initial screening process if they didn't screen through? If they weren't contacted for an interview, would it help if they might be able to contact the department as to why they didn't screen through, and so on, through the process? Could you give us a sense of how feedback might enable veterans to increase their odds at success in future applications?
We'll leave that up to others to determine.
I want to thank the witnesses, both of you, for being here today. This is a very important study, and you are raising some important issues.
Ms. Gibson, I want to talk to you because I think your organization is tapping into what is going to be a growing circumstance in which veterans are coming back with either mental health problems or physical health problems upon their release. You mentioned that with the millennial generation there are probably going to be more occurrences of PTSD. They're more prone to those types of things. I think that just the general awareness of PTSD in society, our ability to diagnose it now and, to some extent, the destigmatization mean that there are going to be more cases of it, because now we're more aware of it and we're able to tell.
What trends do you see, or what sorts of tools should the federal government be using? Generally, we're speaking about how we can get veterans hired into the public service, but specifically, when we're talking about veterans who may have mental or physical health issues as well, I think it may be doubly hard for them to be hired.
How can we address those issues? What sort of role do you see your organization playing as an outsider to government that is able to give that advice and make some connections to the less governmental role, the role outside of government?
The private sector always leads by example from the government. It's not necessarily known to throw a lot of money at a situation or a shift without realizing, I suppose, that it's necessary. Within my own situation, with my own company, even just hiring women, period, I hire engineers and I fight to find female engineers. There are always obstacles to actually achieving this.
Yes, there has been a statistical spike in certain demographics such as millennials with PTSD, which makes it necessary to acknowledge that these things are a reality. They are part of our society and must be provided the means to integrate and to understand that these are not insurmountable obstacles, that there are tools out there. For instance, Israel leads in integrating the disabled into their communities. They have to. Their economy would fail if they hadn't. They provide the disabled with whatever tools are necessary to overcome their challenges so they can get back to work.
I think our government would see the economic benefits of having that intellectual capacity thrown into the workforce. Can you imagine all those people who aren't then supported by social services and all the benefits that can enable in our budgeting?
From a private sector perspective, I offer a lot of creative solutions in the work that I do. I am currently working on various files including equal pay and finding ways around the bureaucracy. I think the public sector has the ability to be a little more fluid where government has far more linear constraints. If there is some way we can work together to provide tools and mechanisms for the private sector to adopt , for instance, I'd be fully on board to see that through.
He's the brains and the looks behind the operation, absolutely.
Master Corporal Grabowski, thank you for being here, and thank you for your service to our country.
I think you're an example of what happens too often when releases come from the military and from defence. In my opinion, we need to get to a point where the transition from National Defence to Veterans Affairs is seamless. It clearly isn't, and in fact, it's probably more cumbersome than it ought to be. It probably trends towards cumbersome as opposed to seamless.
A lot of it, I think, is just information, awareness and sharing of information. Sharing of information, sharing of best practices and maybe just some talking between the two departments may go a long way to help overcome some of those obstacles. Do you agree with that assessment?
Thank you very much, Mr. Peterson.
To both of you, thank you again for being here.
Master Corporal Grabowski, thank you for your years of service to our country.
Should either of you have any additional information that you think would be beneficial to our committee as we continue our study on the hiring of veterans in the public service, I would encourage you to send whatever recommendations or suggestions you have directly to our clerk, and I can assure you they will help form part of our final report.
Sorry for the difficulties technically, Mr. Grabowski.
With that, again, thank you. The meeting is adjourned.