Mark Hammer

Actually, what you describe is not a LOT more complicated than the Canadian federal system, with the exception that requirements pertaining to Veterans Preference are perhaps not so onerous here since we have less of them, by virtue of a smaller military…but we do have priority entitlements for medically discharged vets. We also have obligatory portals through which all staffing must be done, and various kinds of approval systems. Insomuch as a significant share of our positions also have 2nd language requirements (and virtually all management positions require fluency in both English and French), there is the not-so-small matter of classifying positions and setting language requirements in conjunction with the powers that be.

And without wishing to get into a whose-system-is-slower contest, as the poor sap who has to read through thousands of survey comments annually, from folks who either tried to staff, or tried to get appointed, and had just a miserable time at it, we have more than our fair share of slow-as-frozen-molasses staffing, and things that got held up for the dumbest of bureaucratic reasons. As a partial consequence of managers’ expectations of slow complicated staffing, positions posted internally are often what I like to call “6-fers”. The manager will advertise a position as either permanent, limited term contract, acting, secondment, deployment or assignment, and is happy to take whatever arrangement yields the fastest hire. Naturally, when it comes time for us to survey employees about their job-seeking experiences, we have to differentiate between what the ad was offering, what they were seeking, and what they ended up getting. Complicated.

I will note, however, that the boomer retirement wave that everyone talks about also includes folks who work in staffing, and who are replaced by people not nearly as seasoned and fully informed as themselves. As a result, the hoped-for improvements in staffing, and staffng speed, are often stymied by flawed or conflicting advice, or hesitation, from HR staff. That is not to blame them; after all, they can only know what they know. But that backdrop is part of what is impeding the sorts of improvements we all hope for.

We are in regular contact with our brethren at MSPB, and try to learn from each others’ experience and adapt/adopt practices that work well and can fit in the respective systems.

At present an across-the-board 7-10% reduction in staff was mandated for the whole of government, and managers’ performance pay tied to achieving that goal. One of the results of this presumed cost-saving exercise (and it will take some time until it is determined whether the expected savings were offset by the hiring of temps and consultants) was that all agencies (“departments” in our terminology) had an inventory of surplused employees. It is expected that departments will fill any positions that become open with those recycled layoffs, such that external recruitment has largely ground to a halt (though I imagine some still goes on to fill entry-level positions). Managers can certainly reject any such referrals, but that rejection has to be very defensible. I just sat through a focus-group session this afternoon, listening to managers complain about how long it takes to get those referrals.

So yes, between all the mechanisms in place to prevent the various “isms”, PLUS the mechanisms to support the ethical obligation to find something suitable for folks who have been involuntarily displaced from a job, it can take a long time.

Our own system is different from yours in that it uses individual merit rather than relative merit. If one is demonstrably qualified, and a justifiably good “fit” to the job, operational requirements and future organizational needs, then one can be appointed, even IF others scored higher on test A, B, C. One of the recent introductions (if 2006 can be considered “recent”) is what is termed an “informal discussion”, which permits those excluded from a process, whether at initial screening or later points, to inquire of the hiring manager what the basis for their exclusion was, and possibly fix any mistakes that might have led to that exclusion. I won’t claim that these discussions all provide the clarification the candidate seeks, but in a pleasing percentage of cases (not too big, not too small) we find that people are brough back into the process, and some eventually get appointed. The prototypic case might be one where the academic credentials of the applicant were misunderstood by the screening officer (e.g., their program/degree had a different name than the officer was looking for), and they were erroneously screened out. This “error” is rectified and the applicant brought back in. But it can also happen that flagging test-administration, or other “conduct-of-process”, errors at a later point can be a basis for re-inclusion too. Of course, this all adds time, but it also holds the promise of reducing grievances, and improving the (internal) applicant experience. Our fervent hope is that it improves perceived fairness too, and our preliminary sense is that, when done right, it achieves that goal..