Ontario execs tackle skills shortage challenge

The Ontario Public Service is ramping up its recruitment strategy in preparation for the expected retirement of many of its workers over the next ten years, according to Ontario CIO Ron McKerlie.

The expected job vacancies resulting from these retirements will add to the already existing skills requirements in the OPS, McKerlie said in an interview with Intergovworld.com at a recent breakfast forum hosted by the Information Technology Association of Canada.

“At any given time, we have vacancies for about 200 people, which is a reasonably small percentage of the almost 5,000-person workforce,” he said. “In the next ten years up to a third of our staff will be eligible to retire; so that’s obviously a lot of vacancies.”

The OPS has been working with community colleges and universities across the province on specific programs, said McKerlie. For instance, it is collaborating with Ryerson University on a program around mainframe programming, which is one of the required skills in the Ontario government.

“We’re working with colleges like TriOS to help design programs that are uniques to the skills gap that we have. So they will recruit students based on real opportunities,” McKerlie said.

He added that students will also be provided with a co-op type program within the government, “so that when they are done with their education they would have an opportunity to come in and apply their skills in the coop-type setting.”

As many IT managers set to retire, they are also being asked to develop an information package aimed at transferring some of the knowledge they have acquired to incoming IT staff and managers, McKerlie said.

For instance, there are three cluster CIOs within the OPS that are set to retire in the next six months, McKerlie said. They are currently preparing a package of information that includes key things that they have been dealing with, knowledge they have learned over the years, some decision-making considerations that will be helpful for those coming in to replace them.

“Documenting some of that learning and knowledge is hugely important to us, because these are very dedicated people who have worked their whole career, in some cases, in the OPS. How do you keep some of that (knowledge) so that it doesn’t all walk out the door when those people move on to something else,” McKerlie explained.

He admitted, however, that this documentation process for retiring managers has not been as “definite as I like and not as widespread as it needs to be.” But, he added, it’s a starting point.

Addressing the skills shortage challenge would also require “better sharing” of resources among ministry clusters within the OPS, commented Rob Hollis, CIO for the Land and Resource cluster. Hollis was also among the speakers at the ITAC-hosted forum.

External collaboration and bringing in the right partners through competitive procurement processes will also help alleviate some of the government skills gaps, said Jon Junkin, CIO for the government services delivery cluster.

“Through competitive RFPs (request for proposals) we can bring in the right partners and look to the expertise of the vendor community,” he said.

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