Interview with Diane Lorenzato, assistant deputy minister of human resources, PWGSC

Public Works and Government Services Canada recently launched a multimedia recruitment campaign to attract young workers and recent graduates into the folds of public service, prompted in part by the impending retirement of baby boomers. Senior writer Lisa Williams spoke with PWGSC’s assistant deputy minister of human resources, Diane Lorenzato, about the challenges of attracting and retaining IT talents, the common misconceptions about working for the government and her advice for those looking to start their career in the public sector.

Q) What prompted the PWGSC recruitment campaign? Was it really brought about by the impending shortage resulting from retiring baby boomers?

A) We’re at the start of several factors. The first one is the need to ensure that PWGSC has the right skill sets to deliver on its mandate and its programs and services. The baby boomer retirement is a big factor as well.

The other big factor is that the Office of the Privy Council has clearly emphasized public service renewal as one of the key priorities for government. We need to start building today to ensure that we have the public service that we need for the future.

The other thing that was key is we’ve actually decided to work all together (all departments) and ensure that we take a Government of Canada approach to launching our post-secondary recruitment campaign. The post-secondary recruitment campaign was launched on Sept. 17th on our Web site.

When we look at our demographic numbers, we know that over the next five years, 31.4 per cent of PWGSC full-time employees will be eligible for retirement. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to retire, but they can retire, so we need to plan for that. When we think about 31 per cent of our department, that’s quite large, and we need to prepare our workforce to go through that transformation.

When we identified recruitment as one of our key priorities we’ve worked with our marketing team and our human resources planner to define our recruitment marketing strategy, and the first phase starting this September was with post-secondary recruitment.

We’re looking to recruit graduates from colleges and universities across the country in different fields. The second phase, which will be key to help us maintain the necessary workforce, is to do what we call a mid-career professional recruitment strategy. When we look at our demographics, we have people who will be retiring over the next five years that are at the management level, across all levels. What we need to do is identify where they’ll be gaps, and how we’re going to bring people to a level of readiness to take on those positions as they become available.

One of the key objectives of our strategy especially for recruiting graduates was to find a way that would appeal to them, and make them understand what we have to offer in very plain language. At the same time, it’s good to recruit new employees, but you also have to make sure that for the workers that you have that you’re actually going to develop a retention strategy and succession planning.

Q) The format for this recruitment campaign is multimedia, was that done with the intention of attracting these young workers or new graduates?

A) Exactly. As part of our marketing strategy, we did some research to better understand our target audience. We looked at studies that were done, vis-a-vis the youth audience, (post-grads or students), to really understand what appeals to them. One thing that came out in the research is that the young today are highly connected to technology. For them you need to go on their territory to really talk to them, so you make your message very relevant to what they’re looking for.

We also looked at what appeals to a younger audience regarding work and their life and there’s some research that clearly shows that our government is identified as one of the top workplace’s of choice for young graduates. Research conducted by D-Code clearly indicates that the Government of Canada is the second choice for post-graduates.

The focal point of our marketing campaign was to really build a recruitment Web site that would target graduate, college and university and would send messages that are relevant to them.

We came up with a theme that is called, “Your career, Your life. Find your niche with us”. The reason we chose that theme is that PWGSC has such an array of disciplines that you can virtually find your niche in any part of our department and have a very exciting career.

At that point we decided to use a concept using “ambassadors”, which are our young employees that joined the department in the last few years, and that are passionate about what they do. There’s a misconception that working for the government is boring, and that you don’t have much to do. The testimonials of these ambassadors clearly show that you can do very exciting work in the government and at PWGSC.

What we also put in our Web site is tips on how to apply, how to prepare for an interview and practical tips to understand the various career paths that you can take.

The beauty of technology is that you can have a one-stop-shop that will create all the links that you need to get the full picture.

The other key thing for us is that the Web site’s contributing to greening the government, because the less paper you produce, the better it is for our environment. Our research shows that the younger generation are extremely conscientious about the environment, and they really want to associate themselves with employers that are of that same mindset.

Q) You touched on the misconceptions about working in the public sector, so is this campaign also an attempt to address those misconceptions?

A) I think having our young employees as ambassadors was a way to help redress that perception. Having young people telling you as a potential recruit what it’s like working in the government makes it much more relevant to them because it’s not trying to convince them that it’s a great place; it’s people truly enjoying what they’re doing telling you why they love working in the public service.

The public service is more than a job for life; it’s a great work environment because there’s a commitment to continuous learning and the ability to work for one of the biggest employers in Canada.

When you look at the public service we’re talking about more than 200,000 jobs, so you have tremendous room to grow.

One thing that we’ve done at PWGSC is developed a series of development programs where you’re recruited at the entry level, but you’re actually recruited into a development program. Our development program is very rigorous, you are assigned to a mentor, and have a very strict development module and in-class training. I’ve been with the government for over 25 years and I went from communications to human resources to international, you can have a very exciting career.

Q) What would be your tips for someone looking to start their career with the public sector?

A) If you go to the PWGSC Web site we have tips on how to apply. What we wanted to do in that section is to help our graduates understand how the selection process for a job in government works and give them some insight on how to prepare their cover letter and resume.

Every job has identified essential qualifications, and people are being screened in based on how well they meet those essential qualifications. I would strongly urge people to look at that segment before doing anything; it also has explanations of how to interpret language requirements and understanding the jargon of the government.

Anyone who wants to have a great career in government is someone who has an open mind, a positive attitude, works hard and enjoys going out and working with people. You are in charge of your career and you will take your career where you want. Talk to people who have experience, don’t be afraid to knock on doors.

Q) One of the areas in which a shortage has been identified is the ITSB. What specific skill sets are you looking for when recruiting for the ITSB?

A) From my point of view, ITSB is really there to attract what we call the “technical wizards”.

ITSB is sort of a microcosm of this department, and you have all kinds of fields in information technology. We have different types and streams of positions that can range from managing a departmental network, system operation and maintenance, to performing system analysis or providing help desk services and testing new systems.

Related content:

PWGSC launches recruitment campaign to bridge baby boomer gap

Five tips to kick start your public sector career

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