4.0 HR Value: "Competence"
4.1 "Competence" defined
Parks Canada defines "Competence" as: The knowledge, abilities, personal suitability and other qualities required to perform effectively in the workplace. The Agency:
- Commits to employing competent people.
- Maintains and transmits "corporate memory" as an essential part of Agency renewal.
- Invests in individual development and career planning to maintain competencies and to support personal and Agency growth.
4.2 Where the Review Team looked for evidence of "Competence"
Recruitment, selection and promotion within the "core" public service were governed by "merit" as defined by the Public Service Commission under the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA). On becoming an Agency, Parks Canada was no longer bound by the requirements of the PSC or the PSEA and thus was not required to operate its appointment systems on the basis of "merit" as defined by this Act. Section 10 of the Public Service Employment Act defined "merit" as follows:
"10. (1) Appointments to or from within the Public Service shall be based on selection according to merit, as determined by the Commission, and shall be made by the Commission, at the request of the deputy head concerned, by competition or by such other process of personnel selection designed to establish the merit of candidates as the Commission considers is in the best interests of the Public Service.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), selection according to merit may, in the circumstances prescribed by the regulations of the Commission, be based on the competence of a person being considered for appointment as measured by such standard of competence as the Commission may establish, rather than as measured against the competence of other persons."
Section 12 (1) of the PSEA provided further elaboration,
"12. (1) For the purpose of determining the basis for selection according to merit under section 10, the Commission may establish standards for selection and assessment as to education, knowledge, experience, language, residence or any other matters that, in the opinion of the Commission, are necessary or desirable having regard to the nature of the duties to be performed and the present and future needs of the Public Service."
In choosing "Competence" as a value and in committing itself to employing competent people, the Agency adopted a value that was quite similar to merit; indeed the PSEA defines "merit" as a "standard of competence". The Agency chose to define competence as the "knowledge, abilities, personal suitability and other qualities required to perform effectively in the workplace." This is essentially the PSEA definition of "merit". The difference between "merit" and "competence" lies not in the substance but rather in the treatment. Merit as defined by the PSEA was absolute, meaning that that an unconditional standard for appointment had to be met; whereas the Agency more flexibly applies "competence" as a relative term. Thus the Agency has greater flexibility than was previously the case in determining selection processes, selection tools, and ultimately in the selection of successful candidates.
In the world of HR (in both public and private sectors) "competence" has taken on special meaning over the last decade. Organizations have constructed entire HR regimes that are based on competency models (organization-wide competencies, group and community competencies, and role competencies) and have created processes that are integrated by these competency models. "Competencies" have been embraced by the HR profession as a way of aligning HR planning with corporate strategy and priorities and as way of integrating selection and recruitment, performance management, learning and development, succession planning and compensation. Indeed, some work has been done within the Agency applying this concept of "Competency".
However, the Agency does not use "competencies" in the sense of a competency-based HR regime (although the review team at the outset of review understood the term in its current and common usage.) Thus, we looked for an over-arching competency-based framework and competency models that linked and integrated various HR functions. In recruitment and staffing processes, we looked for the use of competency models and competency-based selection techniques (e.g., critical incident interviews, behavioural event interviews, and competency based performance information) as a means of identifying, selecting and promoting competence. In Learning and Development (L&D), we were looking for competency based systems and processes designed to ensure that workforce of the Agency is appropriately skilled, knowledgeable and competent to perform the work and deliver the services of the Agency. We looked for a collective, competency-based needs analysis of the Agency's workforce in relation to the Agency's operational and strategic priorities. We looked for competency based L&D programs at the collective level and for competency based plans at the individual level that took into account Agency business priorities, that translated these into competency requirements, and that cascaded these into selection, development and performance management processes. We also looked for retention, succession planning, and mentoring programs that would enable the Agency to fulfill its objective of "maintaining and transmitting corporate memory as an essential part of Agency renewal".
Further, we looked for competence in additional area or the HR regime like the ability to deliver bilingual service, that management has the ability to administer collective agreements, etc.
4.3 What the Review Team found with respect to "Competence"
The review team found that the recruitment, selection, development, promotion, and performance management processes used by the Agency are little different than the processes it used when it was part of the core public service. Significant progress has been made by the Agency in streamlining and making more efficient some of these processes (principally in staffing) but the professional techniques used by the Agency have not kept pace with organizations elsewhere in the federal jurisdiction and in the private sector that have developed and applied integrated, competency based HR processes. The Agency has not developed and implemented the systems and programs it needs to fully address its value of competency.
The review found:
- That the Agency does not yet have in place all of the corporate, workforce-level HR systems and processes that it needs to ensure that its workforce is appropriately skilled, knowledgeable and competent to perform the work and deliver the services of the Agency. Progress is being made. At the time of our review, a corporate learning function was just being built. A Director of L&D had just been hired with a mandate to develop an overall corporate learning strategy. Some corporate programs that instil competence as a value have been implemented. For example, corporate programs have been launched in such areas as Orientation and Alternative Dispute Resolution.
- The Agency does not yet approach the value of competency in an integrated or systematic manner (for example, it does not use competency-based models and competency based techniques to integrate its recruitment, selection, promotion, development, and performance management processes). Some competency profiles have been developed in some communities (e.g. the Heritage presentation community). This is not to say that competency models are the sole or only legitimate means of instilling this value in the HR regime of Agency or that progress has not been made. The Agency has used other mechanisms to embed the notion of competence, including generic skill outlines and common standards for selection in jobs. At this point, the recruitment, selection, promotion, development, and performance management processes of the Agency (the processes that are most associated with competence) are not integrated.
- That staffing in the Agency remains at this point largely a position-specific activity but is evolving towards more collective processes (e.g., the use of pre-qualified pools for certain levels like PM 06 and PCX and the increasing usage of generic skill sets for similar work across the agency.)
- That performance assessment is sporadically done within the Agency and that as a consequence of this the Agency is not able to collectively monitor or manage the competency development needs of its workforce or, to consistently address competency development needs or career planning at either a program level or at an individual level.
- That there are few comprehensive or significant succession planning, formal mentoring, or retention programs yet in place that would allow the agency to preserve, maintain and transmit its corporate memory. Some early work has been done (e.g., functional leads initiative) to address knowledge transfer and succession planning for some key functions.
These observations are reinforced by the findings of the Parks Canada Employee Survey which state:
"Formal evaluations of performance do not seem to be performed on a regular basis, given that almost half of employees report that they have not had an evaluation in the previous 12 months."
"Training and, to a larger extent, career development are among the greatest concerns reported by employees in the survey. On the positive side, most employees say that they get the training that they need to do their job and barriers to career development are no more prominent at Parks Canada than they are in the Public Service. On the other hand, opportunities to develop and apply skills needed to advance one's career, opportunities for advancement; on-the-job coaching and assistance with career planning and identification of learning needs are all weaker areas at Parks Canada. Only 44 to 54 per cent of employees indicated that these are in place and results are lower across the board than in the Public Service (where numbers also were not particularly positive). Further, only one in four employees at Parks Canada report the existence of a training plan. These fairly negative results suggest a need for improvement in the way that employee competence is supported at Parks Canada."
This is not to say that the Agency does not value competence or that its workforce is not competent. Quite clearly the Agency values knowledge and ability, and its people are in fact capable and dedicated. The Agency does in fact recruit, select and promote employees on the basis of competency. Its managers are trained to select for competency; corporate opportunities are available for employees to further develop their skills, and the agency is well able to serve its clientele and in the official language of its clientele. The essence of our observations on this matter is that the Agency does not yet have in place systems and processes that would allow it to focus and leverage its investments in competency building in a corporate, structured and systematic way.
Selection processes aside, the review found that the Agency demonstrates "competency" in a variety of areas. The review finds highly experienced, "competent" staff heading up the various HR functions. The review finds that the Agency is well able to deliver services to the public bilingually, and that the public generally rates the quality of service provided by Parks Canada staff quite highly (an indication of competence). The review notes that employees report in the Parks Canada Employee Survey that supervisors are well versed in the administration of collective agreements. However, the same survey reports concerns about an absence of on-the-job coaching and developmental opportunities that affect competence levels.