Minorities Sought for Government Jobs

Kathryn May, Canwest News Service, August 16, 2008

Canada’s top bureaucrat has ordered departments to target visible minorities in his latest recruitment drive to hire another 4,000 new university and college graduates by March.

Privy Council clerk Kevin Lynch sent out the orders as part of this year’s efforts to renew the public service, which is undergoing a massive turnover as baby boomers retire in record numbers.

The big question is how long it will take to close the widening gap between the growing population of visible minorities in Canada and the proportion who land federal jobs.

Lynch’s plan didn’t specify what proportion of the new hires should be visible minorities, but recruitment will have to be in large enough numbers to start “closing the gap in representation of visible minority Canadians in the public service.”

To do that, the plan says visible minorities will have to be recruited in numbers beyond their proportion of the workforce.

The recruitment of visible minorities is among the dozen “commitments” Lynch’s action plan laid out in June for deputy ministers, who also are expected to deliver a business plan for their departments, spelling out how they intend to recruit, develop and promote visible minorities, as well as disabled and aboriginal employees.

The hiring and promotion of visible minorities has been a priority for a decade, but visible minorities keep losing ground in the public service.

Last year, the Public Service Commission sounded the alarm when it found the recruitment rate of visible minorities was falling, even though overall hiring in the departments increased.

Despite the hiring spree, recruitment of visible minorities dropped to 8.7 per cent from 9.8 per cent of all hires even though visible minorities are more educated than most applicants—half have bachelor or other degrees. Language does not seem to be a barrier, especially for entry jobs, and neither does the preference for Canadian citizenship.

Commission president Maria Barrados launched a series of surveys and reviews to determine why visible minorities aren’t landing jobs in the public service at a rate proportional to the numbers that apply. She also asked Statistics Canada to determine how many visible minorities will have to be recruited “within a reasonable amount of time” so the federal workforce reflects Canada’s labour force.

Barrados said the commission is still reworking the numbers on how to close the gap, as well as how long it would take to ensure the visible minority population in government represents that of the country at large. “The question is at what rate do we hire to get representativeness and whether this will close the gap,” she said.

Under Canada’s employment equity laws, the government must hire women, people with disabilities, aboriginals and visible minorities in proportion to their share of the labour force.

At last count, departments were trailing in the hiring of visible minorities, who make up 10.4 per cent of the labour force, but have 8.6 per cent of federal jobs. This rate, however, is based on the 2001 census, which has been eclipsed by the 2006 census.

The National Council on Visible Minorities has long argued that poor planning was a large part of the problem. Departments have known for years that the visible minority population is exploding, but they continued to follow the 2001 census labour force availability as the guide for hiring.

“They all knew those projections and we were way behind,” said Igho Natufe, president of the National Council of Visible Minorities.

“If we are among the most educated [to apply] then why aren’t we employed?”

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