An advisory council for the federal government recommends it upgrade its soft skills to improve hard science.
The fed faces significant challenges in recruiting and retaining science and technology employees, according to experts, and the staffing crunch could get worse before they get better.
In its Employees Driving Government Excellence report, the Council of Science and Technology Advisors (CSTA) makes a number of recommendations how it can stem the intellectual tide.
The CSTA is an independent advisory body for the Cabinet Committee in the Economic Union on the strategic management of the government internal science and technology enterprise. The council is comprised of people from universities and the private sector.
CSTA deputy chair and chief scientist for Health Canada Dr. Kevin Keough says there are an unprecedented number of options available to the brightest minds, and if the feds want to compete for them it has to make sure any barriers or process snags are removed.
Improving the intellectual stock starts early, according to Keough. The CSTA recommends recruiting co-op students, research trainees and post-doctoral student. However, a candidate’s age is irrelevant, he says, if it takes too long to hire an individual.
“”(The feds must) shorten the ways to get people into the system. It appeared to the external body to take quite a long time, and their concern is that when you’re recruiting — especially in a very competitive environment for researchers or highly skilled people — that your competition’s got them before you can get around to getting them,”” Keough says.
The council also recommends improving access to education and opportunities in different locations, and making it easier for Canadians living abroad to compete for federal jobs.
Herbert Hess of Toronto-based recruiting specialists Hess & Associates says the government’s ability to compete for the best and brightest increases significantly during an economic slump. He says the feds pay non-managers fairly well and offer index pensions.
“”When it’s a good economy they don’t have a chance. If you’ve got good people they, generally speaking, won’t work for the federal government,”” Hess says. “”In this economy they can compete, on the other hand, when the economy turns around, how many of the people stay?””
The feds’ ability to retain employees relates to their age. Hess says the closer someone is to retirement, the more likely they are to stay, and the government has plenty of them. According to the report, there is a “”significant number of senior”” staffers who will be able to retire without penalty in the next few years. Keough says he is confident the government will rise to the challenge.
“”I think we will see results over the next while and I think it will be a relatively short while,”” Keough says. “”I expected in two to five years they’ll be significant changes. Seeing the impact of the changes will take a little longer.””
This is the fourth report the CSTA has released on this topic. Research for this report began in June 2001.
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