No Progress Without People: The Intersection of Digital Government and Talent

Guest post co-authored by panelists from the Digital Talent Forum.

Published On Oct 19, 2022

The race to find and keep digital talent is an ever-pressing need for government organizations. That’s why we asked panelists from the Digital Talent Forum what their tried-and-tested approaches are, and compiled them in this blog post. If you want to learn more, be sure to tune into the forum on November 3 and join us for our breakfast meet-up - virtually, or in person!


FWD50 Panel


Understanding the digital talent landscape in the federal public service

Meghan Hellstern, Senior Policy Advisor, Canadian Digital Service (CDS), Government of Canada

As part of my work with the Strategic Policy team at the Canadian Digital Service (CDS), I’ve been reviewing resources and engaging a wide variety of stakeholders to better understand how CDS can help address systemic digital talent issues affecting our organization and others.

That research revealed that, when recruiting and retaining digital talent in government – such as designers, developers, product managers, or any other tech specialists – we often face challenges that hinder progress on our digital government ambitions, including:

  • Lengthy and unpredictable hiring timelines due to processes like security clearances and language testing
  • Rigid classification structures and outdated job requirements that make it challenging to ensure the right mix of skills and experience
  • Limited opportunities for career advancement and professional development 

We know that without people, there can be no progress in government, whether digital or otherwise. We’re excited to continue sharing and building on the innovative approaches that CDS and others are already pioneering in the realm of digital talent, while exploring additional opportunities to address these common challenges faced by not only CDS and the Government of Canada, but increasingly governments worldwide.


Developing a talent strategy to support digital specialists

Gigi Chang, Senior Analyst, and Daphnée Nostrome, Director, Digital Talent Strategy, Benefit Delivery Modernization, Service Canada, Government of Canada

Hiring timelines in government means that we lose people faster than we can replace them.

To address this reality, our team at the Digital Experience and Client Data, is working on a talent strategy. 

Like our counterparts in Ontario and British Columbia, we are re-imagining everything from leadership development, hiring, onboarding, learning and career development – in order to meet the needs of digital specialists. 

Our goal is to become an organization where peer-led, continuous learning is the norm. To achieve this, we are co-designing solutions with staff, so that we can have an anti-racist and vibrant workforce equipped to design excellent services that deliver public value. 

As you can imagine, this is a complex task. 

So far we’ve learned that access to modern digital tools, autonomy and being able to work from anywhere are deal-breakers for many digital specialists. As a result, we are focusing on unblocking barriers for our teams, while proactively improving our workplace culture.


Increasing Indigenous recruitment in the Government of Canada

Gary Patsey, Manager, Office of Indigenous Initiatives, Innovation, Information and Technology, Employment and Social Development Canada, Government of Canada

In the federal government, barriers in the hiring processes prevent many First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people from sharing their gifts and talents with us.

In response to these challenges, the Government of Canada created the IT Apprenticeship Program for Indigenous Peoples.

Co-designed with Indigenous peoples, the program creates a pathway to employment in the field of Information Technology, offering a fully paid 24-month apprenticeship for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

As part of the program, the minimum education requirement is waived. This enables us to hire entry-level Indigenous apprentices who get on-the-job work experience, along with formal training and mentorship. Participants leave the program as trained, qualified candidates with industry-recognized credentials.

By valuing and focusing on a person’s potential, rather than on their educational level, the program removes one of the biggest recruitment barriers for Indigenous communities.


Creating talent partnerships to hire Black professionals in Ontario

Michael Awe, Senior Program Lead, Office of the Corporate Chief Information Officer, Government Information Technology Ontario (GovTechON), Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery, Ontario

The Ontario public service launched a number of new initiatives, including the Black Alliance Internship Program –  a program we leveraged as part of our Addressing Anti-Black Racism in GovTechON action plan. 

The one-year paid internship program offers Black post-secondary graduates an opportunity to intern across a variety of professional positions across the Ontario government. 

To ensure success, we worked with the Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN) to tap into their 60,000 strong membership of skilled Black professionals. So far, a number of interns have been placed in a range of positions across the Ontario public service. 

The pilot is just one of the ideas which my organization has implemented to help increase Black representation in digital practices.


Structuring organizations for digital service delivery

Blair Neufeld, Executive Director, Product, Digital Delivery and Innovation, Service Alberta

One of the greatest challenges we faced in Alberta was the lack of government positions and job descriptions for modern digital roles. 

Also, the organizational structure didn’t reflect the type of leadership practices required to support digital practitioners

Our response has been to:

  1. restructure leadership to better reflect a focus on digital delivery: Product Management, Software Delivery, Platform Development, Data Strategy as well as Cyber Security and Technical Support. 
  2. then create roles for practitioners (service designers, full stack developers, dev/ops specialists etc.)

The classification process is well underway for internal roles. But we continue to work with contracted makers in a blended model. Given that we hope to double our current volume of work over the next year we need every resource we can find!


Helping current employees grow into digital roles 

Xiaopu Fung, Director of Product, Benefit Delivery Modernization, Service Canada, Government of Canada

In government, we struggle to deliver inclusive and accessible digital services because we don’t have enough experienced digital practitioners; which means we are short on much-needed roles in digital, data and technology professions.

That’s why we focus on upskilling. Our digital teams have a great blend of domain knowledge and digital expertise. Some staff were frontline staff who gravitated to product ownership/management roles, while others have a user-centred mindset and a willingness to learn on the job.

To get the most from this mix of experiences, we bring in senior digital practitioners that mentor existing staff so they can grow into their role.

Recently, we changed our organizational structure into a matrix model with dedicated communities of practice to create a nurturing environment.  These communities are supported by leaders in product management, content, research, devops, design, etc.  

Additionally, we work with our digital talent team to build team supports, while proactively addressing systemic barriers to attracting and keeping digital talent.


Easing the burden on candidates by finding efficiencies in your hiring process

Dea De Jarisco, Director, Digital Talent Attraction & Development, Government of British Columbia, Digital Office - The Exchange Lab

Typically, hiring can take up to 6 months. This can be demoralizing for candidates who put all this effort to apply, only to hear 3 months or 6 months later that they are not moving on to the next stage.

Knowing this, we worked with hiring managers and candidates to co-design ways to make the process as frictionless as possible. And due to our efforts, our fastest turnaround time from job posting to an accepted offer was 6 weeks!

As part of a cross-ministry hiring pilot, we consolidated hiring for multiple, similar jobs, into one process. Essentially, we advertised one job posting to fill multiple, similar roles available across ministries.

That meant that applicants competing for a role available at multiple units only had to go through one hiring process – resulting in a consistent, streamlined experience for both hiring managers and candidates.


Enabling large-scale systemic change to accelerate change

Ashley Evans, Government of Canada (Digital Talent and Leadership)

Developing digital talent is a main pillar in the Government of Canada’s new Digital Ambition, our strategy for delivering modern government services in the digital age. That’s because we know how critical talent is to Canada’s digital transformation efforts.

 We’re already working towards this ambition by: 

  • Running tailored recruitment campaigns for digital practitioners, individual contributors and decision makers alike 
  • Making staffing more flexible to attract and build talent that reflect the diversity of the people we serve to help make services inclusive and accessible by design 
  • Designing human-centered ways to screen, interview, evaluate, and hire candidates in recruitment campaigns 
  • Investing in training in skills for digital delivery with an emphasis on accessibility, data, cloud, and cyber security 
  • Updating IT competencies, digital competencies, and training pathways for digital practitioners 


The journey continues…

While we can all make strides on our own, it is by learning from each other and openly sharing our lessons that we can accelerate success. 

  1. On Thursday, November 3 at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time, join the online digital talent ecosystem breakfast
  2. On Thursday, November 3 at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time, join the in-person breakfast meetup to chat with panelists and other government movers-and-shakers in digital talent
  3. On Thursday, November 3 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, tune in to the hybrid talent forum
  4. View the pilot Data Talent Ecosystem!


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