We recently presented to two external stakeholder groups together, and we are working on more opportunities to take the Craig and Greg show on the road.
I was appointed as ombudsman on an interim basis in November 2018. For me, serving this important constituency for the past seven months has been some of the most rewarding service in my career.
Every morning, I wake up and read the news summaries to see the National Defence community’s positive impact both on the global stage and in Canada.
We're witnessing it right now. Seeing Canadian Armed Forces members deployed in our own backyards in the National Capital Region to deal with the devastating floods reminds us of our military's vital role in protecting Canadians. To them, I say thank you.
The constituency that our office serves is extremely large. Not only do we serve members of the Canadian Armed Forces, both regular and reserve forces, but also National Defence civilians, Canadian Rangers, cadets, Junior Canadian Rangers, non-public funds employees, new recruits, as well as the families of all those I have just named and persons who are attached or seconded to the Canadian Armed Forces.
These responsibilities are not taken lightly by me or the team of over 65 passionate public servants who work in our office. In fact, the professionalism of these employees and the sense of duty they have to this constituency are, in my view, virtually unrivalled. Some of these employees have been with the office since they turned on the lights in 1998. As a result, we possess the institutional memory necessary to fulfill our mandate, assuring fairness and contributing to lasting change for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces community.
This institutional memory has helped me to understand the history of our engagement regarding the very important subject that your committee has been studying.
In addition, in my career at the Canadian Coast Guard, and especially as a senior executive within that organization, I’ve been both vocal in my support for and active in hiring retired members.
My support was based on what I saw as natural links between the Canadian Coast Guard and the Canadian Armed Forces.
I recognize that the links between the training elements of the Canadian Armed Forces and organizations such as the Canadian Coast Guard, Canada Border Services Agency, Parks Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police may appear less clear for other departments as they look to retired members to fill public service positions. However, I believe that all public service hiring managers must meet retired members halfway. We're committed to giving retired members post-service employment opportunities. In my experience, the public service ultimately gains from their expertise.
However, for members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are medically releasing, we have an obligation to provide them priority access to public service positions. Those members who are medically releasing as a result of an illness or injury sustained as a direct result of their service are placed at the top of the statutory category for priority entitlement.
For those whose illness or injury is not as a result of their service, their priority entitlement is entrenched in the regulatory category. In either case, we have a duty that far outstrips a policy or initiative. It was within this context, as well as the context of the introduction and passage of the that my predecessor became publicly engaged on this issue. In 2015, he published a report in consultation with Mr. Dalton's predecessor that recommended “that the Canadian Armed Forces is best placed to make the determination of whether a medical release is attributable to service pursuant to Bill C-27.”
More importantly, the ill or injured Canadian Armed Forces member stands to gain significant benefit from quicker access to enhanced hiring opportunities in the public service.
In the end, the vested Veterans Affairs with the responsibility for adjudicating applications of CAF members seeking access to this priority list held by the Public Service Commission. Since that time, Veterans Affairs has struggled to meet its service standards, an unfortunate consequence that has seen itself play out in numerous media stories and public debate.
My interest in appearing before you today is not to fuel any of that debate. Rather, I want to provide you, in plain speak, what our office believes to be the elements that need to be considered to make this overall initiative a success.
First, we must consider perhaps the most relevant statistic. The average Canadian Armed Forces member will release around their 40th birthday. This means that former members have quite a few employable years before they're fully retired. Experience in the Canadian Armed Forces is unique, and the federal public service has the potential to harness quite a lot of this energy as it looks to fill its ranks with qualified individuals.
Medically released members may face greater barriers to entry and challenges in obtaining and maintaining a second career. For this reason, logically we have the provisions of the , as well as priority entitlements, to ease entry into public service employment.
However, there are delays for Veterans Affairs Canada to adjudicate files that would allow individuals to gain priority access to those jobs. In addition, there's a lengthy process on the Public Service Commission side in terms of putting these individuals on the priority list.
The natural consequence of these two administrative factors is that fully deserving and qualified former members of the Canadian Armed Forces are missing out on opportunities as a result of the administrative delays. Veterans Affairs Canada's statistics are getting better but are far from perfect. This causes a great deal of anxiety among Canadian Armed Forces members who are transitioning from military to civilian life, or from my jurisdiction to Mr. Dalton's jurisdiction.
Administratively, VAC has eliminated some duplicated adjudications to improve their response times. This is promising. What is equally promising is that the armed forces and Veterans Affairs Canada have established a process by which Veterans Affairs can now almost instantly access relevant information contained within the Canadian Forces' health information system to speed up their adjudications. This initiative is expected not only to speed up priority entitlement decisions, but also adjudications as a whole.
Nevertheless, if that applicant still faces significant wait times, more creative solutions may need to come to the fore when it comes to getting these individuals on the priority list.
Some non-medically released military members may already have private sector jobs. Others may have jobs in the federal public service, given that serving members can already apply for internal competitions under mobility and preference provisions. However, for many of them, this may not be the case.
Many constituents and hiring managers have told us that, despite the government's efforts, there's still a lack of understanding of how the knowledge and skills acquired through military service translate into the civilian work environment. This is troubling, considering that this issue has been a key priority for retired members and the government since at least 2011.
For example, the Standing Committee on National Defence recommended in its 2014 report entitled “Caring for Canada’s Ill and Injured Military Personnel” that the government “develop a comprehensive, algorithmic, military skills translation software tool to facilitate CF members to obtain civilian employment upon release.”
Such sophisticated translators already exist in the United States. An American military member can simply enter their service units and the certifications they have received into a computer database. The computer then spits out those civilian job equivalencies as well as a civilian resumé template once the member has made some simple drop-down menu selections.
The CAF has developed a translator tool, but having a singular government-endorsed tool would be valuable for current and former CAF members and public service hiring managers. Whatever that tool looks like, it should take the next steps beyond simply transforming a military occupation code to a civilian occupation. It must incorporate and recognize the leadership and management experience that is gained over the course of one's career here in Canada, as well as on international deployments.
It is also evident that there is a genuine lack of awareness of valuable programs, such as the vocational rehabilitation program for serving members. This program enables eligible CAF members who have been notified of an impending medical release, with the approval of their commanding officer, to begin vocational rehabilitation training for up to six months prior to either their start of retirement leave or their final CAF release date, whichever is the earlier date.
What does the program for serving members mean for hiring managers in the public service?
The armed forces will continue to pay a member's salary while that member works within your organization. If that member performs well within your organization, you have a high likelihood of bringing that individual on full time if you have a vacancy to fill and the selection criteria are met. The program is incredible, but few people know about it, despite the fact that it is a perfect example of seamless transition. Our office and I have used this program in the past, and we have gained from it.
Ultimately, the public service, and particularly those veterans now working in the public service, must take responsibility and be supported in mentoring, coaching and training service members in their transition. We have to make it as easy as possible for public service managers to hire former CAF members.
As the former Coast Guard director general of operations, I was committed to the hiring of CAF members by my organization. I, and others, travelled to CAF bases and wings in order to make the sales pitch for, and mentor and coach, releasing members to sign up with us. I know there are many public service hiring managers who are just as enthusiastic, but we have to provide them the information and the tools to empower them. We all have a stake in this.
Members of the committee, Mr. Chair, I want to thank you once again for the opportunity to appear before you today.
I'm free to answer any questions you may have related to this important file.
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for inviting me to appear before you today and for giving me the opportunity to talk about priority hiring.
I'm joined by Sharon Squire, the deputy veterans ombudsman.
I would like to begin by explaining what we hope to do with our time today, and that's to share with you our perspective based on what we've heard from veterans on priority hiring over the last number of years and to speak from the perspective of an organization that has hired veterans as recently as two weeks ago through priority hiring.
I should also declare a bit of a personal bias, too, that I try to remain conscious of. I think our veteran population represents a huge pool of talent that should be leveraged. It is not always understood across Canada in the public and private sectors. I've developed that bias as a result of serving for 25 years and transitioning to the public service but also by working as a deputy head in two provinces and now with the federal government and having hired veterans through normal and priority hiring processes.
I would like to commend you for undertaking this important study. The , and indeed all initiatives related to veteran priority hiring are important initiatives. They have the potential, when implemented effectively, to have a considerable impact both for government as a whole and for veterans and their families.
From the perspective of a veteran, priority hiring represents an opportunity for one at the end of a career of service to Canada and Canadians to continue that service in another form. That's an incredibly powerful opportunity. I think we would all be aware of some of the challenges that occur with transitioning from uniform to civilian life. Priority hiring is one way, if implemented effectively, we could address and support these challenges.
They're not just opportunities for veterans, for those who are medically released, those who have suffered illness and injury as a result of their service to our country. It represents an obligation, an obligation on the part of government and an obligation on the part of Canadians to support those veterans who, through no choice of their own, are unable to continue their service in uniform. I think it's quite self-evident why it's important to get this right for those Canadians who have sacrificed for us and all Canadians.
From the perspective of the public service, veteran priority hiring initiatives represent a tremendous opportunity to tap into what is a large pool of highly trained, educated and experienced Canadians, roughly 10,000 servicemen and servicewomen, regular and reserve forces, released for a variety of reasons every year. Not all of those individuals would wish to pursue a career in the public service at the federal level. Some will enter the private sector. Some have the entrepreneurial bug. Some want to work in the not-for-profit sector, but a number are looking for public service employment. As a large employer across the land, it makes perfect sense, I think, for the federal government to want to engage these 10,000 or so highly capable and talented Canadians every year as the public service seeks to attract, recruit and retain the best and the brightest.
Lastly, from the perspective of government, I think veteran priority hiring represents an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in an important area. This leadership has already been demonstrated in instances like the introduction of the , but when it comes to implementation, I think much more could be done.
There are a number of private sector companies and corporations across Canada that have made it a mission to hire veterans and to advocate for the value of veterans to others in the private sector. There are also a number of organizations and groups that work hard to advocate and link veterans up to both private and public sector employers. These individuals demonstrate significant leadership. We think that the federal government could continue to play a leadership role and play an even greater leadership role as the largest employer in Canada and send a real message to the rest of the public and private sectors that there's tremendous value in hiring a veteran.
I was struck by one of the individuals who wrote to the committee to share his thoughts on his experience with veteran priority hiring. After a very articulate, compelling story of what he encountered, he wound up with a question. That question at the end of his submission, and this speaks to the role of leadership, was, “If the federal government won't hire veterans, why would the private or public sectors in other jurisdictions hire veterans?” I think that is certainly something worth considering.
How effective is the ? How effective has implementation been? I understand that is really the task of your committee.
To be frank, I would suggest that at the strategic level that's a very hard question to answer. We have some statistics and those statistics are interesting and they tell a story, but when I look at them, I don't think they tell the full story.
One of the reasons I don't think we're in a position to really answer that question is that we've established an intent in the to enhance veteran employment, but we have not established or articulated clear objectives. It's a case of knowing where we want to go but not necessarily describing in general and not necessarily describing specifically how we plan to get there and what success looks like. In addition, we haven't assigned clear accountabilities for delivering on whatever these objectives or outcomes might be. I think that's reflected in the testimony you've received from veterans in person and also in the submissions you've received.
On a more tactical level, there is clearly room for improving the delivery of priority hiring in the . I don't intend to repeat the testimony you have already received or indeed repeat some of the comments that Mr. Lick has made, but I would like to highlight a number of the observations that our office has made. They've been submitted to you in writing, so I won't go through each and every one but I would like to highlight just a couple.
The first is that the process is too complex and not veteran-centric. I would describe this as the burden resting on the shoulders of a veteran who is releasing and looking to be engaged with the public service, and not on the institution itself.
If you consider the context of a veteran releasing, particularly those who are releasing for medical reasons—again, many of whom are not releasing of their own volition—just try to imagine what it's like to be at a point in life where you've been told that you're no longer able to serve your country in the manner that you had and that you're going to release. Employment—finding a sense of purpose and finding meaning in your post-service life—is just one of the many questions you're trying to wrestle with.
You may be wondering about your personal medical care and continuing it post-release. You may be wondering where you're going to live, where your spouse is going to work and if this is going to affect your children's education. It would be an oversimplification to describe this as a stressful and challenging time in the life of a service member, but I think it's pretty clear that it is.
If anything, the opportunity to attach to the federal public service should be a bit of a lifeline. It should be a way to address one of those key questions, that of, “How am I going to find purpose in my post-uniform life?”
Unfortunately, today that's not necessarily the case. I could walk you through the process as shared with us by a recent hire on our part, but suffice it to say that it is anything but simple, and in my opinion it is not designed to help a veteran achieve success in the employment realm.
Decisions are not made in a timely manner. Mr. Lick has addressed the attribution of service question. That is one that continues to come up frequently. Not all CAF members are aware of the priority hiring process, nor are they necessarily aware, based on their employment experience, of what it takes to participate in the process of seeking employment in the federal public service.
I am going to skip a whole bunch of my notes and just speak about the federal public service side and some of the challenges we hear about and that we know exist.
One is on the part of HR managers and understanding the intricacies of priority hiring initiatives and being able to act on them. We've experienced that in our office recently. Equally, but more important, perhaps, there is a lack of understanding on the part of leaders and managers across the public service of the value that exists in service members who take off the uniform.
To share a short story, as the deputy head, I had an assistant deputy minister approach me about a competition he was running. They had narrowed it down to three individuals on the short list, one of whom was a veteran. This individual said, “My gut tells me to go with this individual.” He said, “I'm concerned, though.” One of the challenges he was trying to address was the leadership environment on his senior team, and he didn't know how this veteran would react in working in this new environment.
In the end, I told him to go with his gut. He ended up hiring this veteran, but for me it was another indication of this unconscious bias that exists, and if we don't do something about educating folks, it may continue to exist. This individual came to me some time later and said that in 26 years it was the best hire he'd made in the public service.
In conclusion, I'd like to offer three recommendations for consideration by the committee.
One, establish and assign clear outcomes to departments and organizations across government.
Two, establish clear accountabilities for delivering on these outcomes.
Three, ensure that all medically releasing veterans who wish to be considered for public sector employment opportunities are fully able, from both a personal and administrative standpoint, to actively participate in that process from the moment they receive notice that they're going to be released.
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you. I look forward to answering your questions.
For the record my name is Robert Thomas Hicks. I have a degree, a diploma, a secret clearance.
I'm somewhat bilingual, but in any case, I can manage.
I am currently studying to obtain both my PMP and CMP.
I've served Canada twice. I hold the Queen's commission, and almost 20 years ago to this very day, I was serving overseas in Kosovo in the assault troop of Lord Strathcona's Horse, Royal Canadians. My father served in the seventies, and my grandfather, Thomas Hicks, was wounded in Ortona in 1943. Canadian military service runs in my family.
Please accept my sincerest appreciation for being allowed to speak.
By now, it should be apparent that the current mechanisms to bring veterans into the civil service could use new impetus. The majority of us are not injured or going into executive positions, and few of us have pensions.
Admittedly, I'm not a hiring expert, but I am an expert in not getting hired. I was removed from a competition because I used “emergency communications” as a skill instead of “crisis communications”. HR never bothered to explain the difference. Other veterans have told me similar stories.
Right now, with this forum, I'll do what I've always done—speak, a shock to those who know me, I'm sure.
Currently, Canada's history, statues, culture and civil service are being disrespected and destroyed by intersectionality, virtue signalling and regionalism. Canada was built through hard work, pragmatism and flexibility of thought. We should return to those values.
I was taught to be proud of Canada, to respect our traditions and our history, and to make a positive contribution. To that end, all good communications, change initiatives and projects have at least two things in common: They are driven from the top down, and there is accountability. The only way this situation will be improved is by a push from the top down to find ways to make it easier and relatively risk free for civil service managers to get to know veterans and, ultimately, to hire them. Once we're in place, our value will become apparent.
Let's look at classifications. Currently, the classifications and the structures governing them are very rigid. If a sub-department requires a writer, they have to ask departmental comms, which usually leads to an underpaid contractor. I was that underpaid contractor. One solution is a new classification. Think “special projects officer”, or in project management methodology, a “contingency reserve”.
Create a new, flexible, agile classification for veterans that can't be backfilled by civilians. Create a veterans pool and make it mandatory to look there when hiring. Solicit feedback whenever someone from that pool wasn't chosen.
Make things even easier for managers. Create temporary categories or positions where they hire a vet for three years, minimum of one, and if after two years everybody's happy, the process to make that veteran permanent begins. Think “consultancy with a pathway to indeterminate”.
The way forward is to loosen the hiring process for veterans. Give us a chance to win. Get to know us. Put the onus on veterans to make managers want to hire every last one of us. We're used to being thrown at problems to make them disappear.
Give us a chance to make managers brag about how many veterans they have on staff. My money is on our impressing the country with our flexibility, our integrity and our ingenuity, but it's still predicated on managers finding us, getting to know us and hiring us.
Remember, we're taxpayers, we're voters, we're citizens, and we deserve the same consideration for civil service jobs that everybody else enjoys.
Again, my sincerest thanks. Perseverance.
Thank you for inviting me here today to be part of this committee.
My name is Rob Northey and I'm a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. I served just shy of 23 years—from May 1991 until March 2013. During this time frame, I was a vehicle technician, primarily with 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. I deployed both domestically and abroad. Domestically, I was part of operations during the ice storm in 1998, and following that, I provided support to the 28th G8 Summit in 2002.
Abroad, I deployed to Bosnia in 1997 as part of NATO, and again in 2002. In 2005, I deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, with the Canadian provincial reconstruction team as part of Operation Archer to support Operation Enduring Freedom, the war on terror. Unfortunately, due to a service-related injury, I was medically released in 2013.
I took advantage of the many programs that were available to me to support my transition to civilian life. I would have activated priority hiring at that time; however, I chose to wait until I upgraded my education. I went to college and acquired a diploma in business leadership. Following that, I was accepted into an executive MBA program focusing on innovation leadership. I graduated from the program in November 2016. I took a little time off to collect myself, and I activated priority hiring in, approximately, December 2017.
I chose to apply mostly within the AS, PM and ED-EDS streams, and I received approximately 600 invitations to apply for jobs across Canada. I actively pursued about 15 of these positions, and I was eventually hired with DND as an audit officer. I started in August of 2018 and relocated to the NCR. I work with outstanding people and exceptional leaders.
The priority hiring program is a great initiative, but it has many limitations that create barriers to entry for veterans.
The positives of the program include that veterans are supposed to get priority and need to meet only the essential qualifications. I was part of the veterans hiring pilot program with Veterans Affairs Canada, and the staff there was excellent in helping me with resumés, cover letters and providing other forms of support. Some hiring managers see the value of hiring a veteran.
There are some areas for improvement in the program. The process is slow, cumbersome and bureaucratic, and there is a negative stigma in the public service that priority hires are subpar performers who are unwanted and being passed around from department to department. Many hiring managers or their representatives were transparent in communicating to me that they already had someone internally whom they wished to bring on board and implied that they would appreciate it if I dropped out of the process. Hiring managers do not often find out that there is a priority hire until they have already invested substantial resources into a non-priority person. Many times I was screened out of a process with what I felt was improper justification.
As well, many of the testing standards for some jobs are unfair. An example is one job for which I was supposed to be able to look up research policy; however, during testing I was required to recall from memory policy specific to that department. Some HR reps are not familiar with the priority hiring process. Examples of that include denying me the five days to create a cover letter and resumé, and not communicating specific examples back to me in regard to why I wasn't chosen.
Although I could have rebutted in many of the jobs I was not chosen for, I chose not to. Why would I want to work with them if they didn't want me on board? In my opinion, it was very transparent that I was getting screened out for virtually no good reason. If it was not for the fact that I was in a good frame of mind and dedicated to finding a job, I might have given up, and I feel that many veterans likely feel the same way I do.
However, I am very grateful because a great department did hire me, and this has allowed me to move forward with life after the service. As well, it is excellent to see that my employer sees the value in my military career and the advantages of hiring a veteran.
I served 10 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as a combat engineer and intelligence operator. I served in Afghanistan in Operation Athena in 2009, and I was medically released in 2017. I am fortunate to have maintained my faculties through ongoing rehab and therapy.
I thank the honoured members of this committee for their time this afternoon.
During my transition, I completed vocational rehabilitation and earned a postgraduate certificate in project management. I have successfully navigated the priority hire process and will be starting in a management position with ESDC in June.
Overall, my search for public service employment has been stressful, frustrating and unnecessarily complicated. The transition from the military is stressful, especially when managing a medical diagnosis. I felt pressure to use my VRPSM, but like most transitioning soldiers, I lacked direction.
It might help if there were a clear path to a public service job early in the process, with the support of a VPSU adviser. This vision of a job could help guide members in choosing the best routes to education and accreditation.
The SISIP vocational rehabilitation program should be sufficiently lengthened to capture educational requirements of civilian employment that correlate with the member's military trade. As an example, I was a combat engineer. The civilian equivalent would be a civil engineering technologist, which is a three-year program.
The SISIP program does not account for the time it takes members to secure public service employment after completing vocational rehabilitation. In receiving a job reference or analyzing a job poster, there is very little information that tells the applicant what the job actually does. This makes it very difficult to determine whether a job fits the applicant.
A priority hire candidate only needs to respond to essential qualifications within the statement of merit criteria, but this is the most difficult part of the screening process. To be successful, a candidate must write a clear response to the essential qualification, with no detail left out. This process requires support to examine, edit and proof these responses. Wordsmithing is a skill many people struggle with.
The feedback received when unsuccessful was often vague and unconstructive. It is highly demoralizing to be rejected without feedback.
There were issues meeting the educational requirement for positions I was otherwise qualified for. Specifically, I applied for intelligence analyst positions that I had experience for, yet failed due to a stringent educational requirement.
Overall, several organizations included requirements on understanding the organizational structure and mandate of that department, which puts veterans external to the public service at a disadvantage.
Lastly, priority hire benefits can be transferred to spouses upon death or severe disability. I feel that benefits for spouses should be more liberally applied or shared, to reduce the stresses on families in transition.
In summary, the key factors would be to connect transitioning members with potential public service jobs early, with support from VPSU; response to essential qualifications must be simplified; and SISIP benefits should be expanded.
As soldiers, we take our oath to serve the interests of Canada. There should be a simple process to continue that service as a public servant. As of today, the process is anything but simple.