The public sector should expand its interchange program with the private sector in order to diversify its employees’ networks and skill sets and, in so doing, help the public service face employment challenges and disruptive technologies.
As the labour market shifts from full-time work toward short-term and part-time contracts, workers and organizations are experiencing benefits and drawbacks. While many individuals worry about a lack of job security, others appreciate the flexibility and opportunity that “gig” work provides.
Employment in the public service and gig work are at opposite ends of a spectrum: the public service offers job security and a sense of vocation, while the gig economy offers flexibility and opportunity. Job security within the government is seen to be integral to the specific role that the public service plays within Canada’s Westminster system and its capacity to speak truth to power regardless of political realities and government transitions. However, government employment is also seen as rigid, hard to penetrate, hard to leave, regimented; this is the price public servants pay for protected, secure employment. The private sector, meanwhile, falls somewhere in the middle: formal employment contracts exist, but people move freely between jobs. Private sector employment is less risky than the gig economy and provides some opportunities for self-reinvention.
The public sector should strike a balance between these extremes by creating a bridge to the private sector that encourages interchange experiences among employees. Such experiences could diversify public service employees’ networks and skill sets and, in so doing, help equip the public service for the employment challenges that lie ahead.
To this end, the federal government should more actively promote and encourage regular use of Interchange Canada, a program of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) that facilitates exchanges in and out of the public service. Specifically, government should:
- expand the use of Interchange Canada by creating the administrative infrastructure and financial incentives needed for significant uptake of the program
- require TBS to work with interchange partners to develop a competency-based approach to interchange arrangements
- advertise interchange assignments via an online database
- focus on securing interchange arrangements for a critical mass of public servants in key sectors, including artificial intelligence, big data and disruptive technologies