Archives for October 2011

Advancing HR at Encana: A Conversation with Dave Urquhart

Queen’s IRC has now successfully delivered several iterations of our Advanced HR programming. During the program, participants are often engaged with the material and the discussions. But, to what extent is this engagement with learning maintained outside of the classroom? To answer this question, IRC Research Associate, Alison Hill, spoke with Dave Urquhart, Team Lead, HR Advisory, Staffing and Development at Encana. Dave has been a participant in the Advanced HR programming, and has sponsored several of his employees to attend as well.

This article provides one senior-level HR professional’s perspective on the value of the IRC’s Advanced HR programming. In particular, the article highlights Dave’s views on the Queen’s IRC advantage, the program content, and the ways in which he and his employees have shifted their thinking about HR as a result of the Advanced HR programming.

The Queen’s IRC Advantage

According to Dave, “The Advanced HR programming offered by Queen’s IRC is one-of-a kind. Though my organization is located in Alberta, I cannot find a comparable program offered by any of the academic institutions in the West. The IRC targets a niche market, with a program that is particularly geared towards HR generalists.”

Program Content

The IRC’s Advanced HR programming relies on the work of Ulrich, Brockbank, Johnson, Sandholtz, and Younger (2008). Their text, HR Competencies: Mastery at the Intersection of People and Business, is the program’s primary resource. The competency model developed by Ulrich and presented during the Advanced HR programming was a key takeaway for Dave. As an HR professional, Dave was already familiar with Ulrich’s work prior to his IRC experience. The Advanced HR program, however, provided a more in-depth exploration of Ulrich’s work. For Dave, this exploration broadened and deepened his awareness and understanding of HR’s functions and true capacities. “I’m encouraging every HR Advisor to get involved in the business,” said Dave. “The Ulrich model is a good way to understand this. What is our strategy? What skills are needed to implement this strategy? How can leadership endeavour to support the strategy across the organization? The Advanced HR program gives its participants the credibility to work within the business.”

Reframing Thinking

Gaining a holistic perspective on HR was another key learning for Dave and his employees. The content presented throughout the program encouraged Dave and his colleagues to consider approaching HR with a systems view, and to a more clearly articulate how interconnected HR is to other departments within the organization. At Encana, HR Advisors need to be acutely aware of how individual business units operate, and to cultivate partnerships across these units so that the organization can minimize production costs and maximize efficiency.

The discussion on organizational structure resonated with and was beneficial to Dave. The IRC’s program enabled Dave to reflect on and critically think about how and why Encana is structured and how this structure relates to processes, people, and reward systems. Working to mitigate stress caused by organizational change, and to answer questions associated with organizational change, Dave’s HR Advisors have a better understanding of their role and how it aligns within the organization by following the IRC’s Advanced HR programming.

Advancing HR at Encana

Since participating in the Advanced HR program, Dave, in particular, and Encana, more broadly, have continued to adapt and utilize the Ulrich model to develop HR Advisors professionally and understand how to strive for the next level of partnership with the business.  Dave has embedded HR activists within the individual business units at Encana. Taking a team approach, HR Advisors attend management meetings, and are integral members of the senior leadership teams. HR Advisors, it seems, are recognizing the value of their role, and are gradually elevating their skills to become Credible Activists. Dave emphasizes that understanding the business, not only the internal operations, but that of the competitors is imperative. This understanding provides Encana with a competitive edge.

Closing Thoughts

In closing, Dave summarized why he advocates the value of the IRC’s Advanced HR programming by saying: “I highly recommend the IRC’s Advanced HR programming to those in a generalist role, those who currently sit at the leadership table, or should be sitting at the table. For my employees, the programming helped to reiterate why they are at the table. They aren’t there just to provide updates on HR functions, but rather to be part of the leadership team and provide strategic direction on decisions and crucial organizational issues and matters. The Advanced HR programming enables a more holistic understanding of HR, including strategy, structure, performance, and leadership development. It gives participants an understanding of how to be a player at the table and the ability to question decisions, ask “Why,” and to think critically about matters related to HR.”

IRC Director, Paul Juniper, applauds Dave for being a forward-thinking HR leader. Paul is pleased that the learning acquired in the IRC’s Advanced HR program has practical applications for organizations, such as Encana, and that the programming is perceived as valuable by its participants.

Managing the Benefits and Challenges of the Multi-Generational Workforce

The increased diversity in Ontario workplaces, the benefits and challenges that diversity presents to organizations, and initiatives to increase awareness and make our workplaces more inclusive have been an important focus of Canadian businesses and their human resource professionals over the past several decades.

Continuing to refine our definition of diversity in the workplace requires going beyond consideration of the more familiar differences such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, or culture. It means considering all the features that make people dissimilar, and therefore unique. Defining differences in this broader context assists us in assessing the complex dynamics of today’s workplace, the interplay of individual personalities, and the behaviours and expectations of co-workers and managers.

A person’s background and circumstances influences the way that person approaches their job and inevitably affects their work style, work ethic, and workplace relationships. One of the ways we are “different’ is the generation we grew up in. During our developmental years, the world events and conditions that we experience shape our overall worldview for both our personal life and our work life. These experiences help to define our values, career goals, motivators, perception of work, and views on work-life balance. In turn, these values, goals, and motivators impact our behaviours and interactions in the workplace.

In my practice, as a conflict management consultant, I am invited in to a variety of workplaces to conduct a mediation between colleagues, assess a toxic work environment, investigate complaints alleging harassment and/or discrimination, or provide coaching, training, or facilitation as a restorative measure. I find that many times interpersonal workplace conflict is labelled as “they have a personality clash,” “he has no work ethic,” or “these young people have no respect for authority or experience.” The root of the conflict may, in some cases, be people struggling with different perceptions and expectations of each other, arising out of generational differences. With three to five generations working alongside each other in most workplaces, a lack of understanding across generations can create value clashes and communication failures that have a detrimental impact on working relationships. Based on my experiences, I provide three strategies to manage the multi-generational workplace: flex management styles, encourage multi-generational teams, and openly discuss generational differences.

Strategies for the Multi-Generational Workplace

1. Flex Management Styles

Since each generation brings its own set of strengths and challenges to the workplace, it is important for managers to manage and motivate by flexing their style. For example, a Baby Boomer (born from 1946 to 1964) expects feedback once a year, with lots of documentation, while a Millennial, Generation Y or Nexter (born from 1981 to 1994), is used to praise and could mistake silence as disapproval. Millenials are confidant, sociable, tech-savvy, and optimistic. At the same time, they may question authority, display a lack of overall professionalism, bore easily, and enter the workforce with high expectations.

A large retail chain I was providing conflict management training for was having difficulty with their Baby Boomer managers working effectively with Millenials, a population that represented between 60% and 70% of their workforce. In a training session, the following tips for managing the Millenial generation were discussed:

  • Expose them to a variety of tasks, switch tasks frequently, let them multi-task and discover new ways of doing things;
  • They’ll listen, but they’re used to their voices being heard. Be a mentor or a coach rather than the “boss.” Take time to explain things, step back to let them do their best, and return to assess;
  • They are group-oriented and inclusive and want to work alongside friends, not just “co-workers.” Build a friendly atmosphere and a sense of team;
  • They have a lot happening in their life. Allow for their input into the schedule, with advance requests for days off and a structure that allows for switching shifts;
  • They are more likely to respond to a daily challenge than a long-term goal. Provide structure, clearly state goals and define daily success factors;
  • Provide formal and casual feedback regularly, as they expect acknowledgment of their achievements.

An interesting revelation for these managers was that the generation they struggled to manage and motivate at work were, not surprisingly, the creation of a constellation of factors in society during these employees’ childhood and youth. Some managers, with children who were of the same age, sheepishly acknowledged their contribution to raising individuals who presented challenges to employers and reminded the group of this generation’s strengths.

2. Encourage Multi-Generational Teams

A workplace assessment for a provincial government agency revealed that in one of the five technical units, the manager was a conflict-avoider, who wasn’t addressing the split in the unit across generations. A division was obvious in the physical layout of desks, the assignment of tasks, the nicknames for the groups, and the perceptions of team members. The Baby Boomers saw Generation X (born between 1965 to 1981) as being less loyal to the company, wanting to be promoted before “paying their dues” and being “me-oriented” in that they both expected and received special treatment from the manager (a fellow Gen X). The Gen Xers referred to the Baby Boomer group as the “old guard” and viewed them as unmotivated to work and entitlement-oriented, based solely on seniority, rather than technical skill.

One of the recommendations for the unit was to structure the workforce to create cross-generational teams, in order to build relationships and share technical knowledge for tougher projects. This re-distribution of tasks and management attention demonstrated respect for both senior and junior technicians.

3. Get it Out In the Open

In a team-building workshop held for a federal government agency, a candid conversation allowed co-workers to discuss the differing values that were causing stress in their working relationships. These values had often been expressed in the workplace, with judgmental statements made towards others, such as “That’s not the way it should be done” or “In my day…” Value-driven disagreements can arise out of the generation a person has grown up in.

Traditionalists or Radio Agers (born from 1922 to 1945) and Baby Boomers, raised in an environment which taught them to respect authority, may have a tendency not to challenge the status quo, which can frustrate Gen Xers, who have been encouraged to speak up. Gen Xers, as the “latchkey” generation, developed self-reliance, which can cause them to view Millenials as spoiled and privileged. Achievement-oriented Millenials may see Gen Xers as overly pragmatic and cynical.

Openly discussing how historical events, developments in technology, and the changing nature of society have created strands of commonality within generations created an unexpected outcome. It allowed a values-based disagreement to be shifted off the individuals involved to the environments in which they were raised, by developing awareness of the attributions people were making about others and the underlying cause for these labels. At the same time, it dispensed with some of the existing stereotypes, and acknowledged the uniqueness of each person.

On a reflective note, I struggle with the contradiction that, in order to explore diversity, we describe commonalities, which has the risk of creating stereotypes. Yet, often it is the courage it takes to talk about difficult and sensitive topics in a respectful way that creates the opportunity for tolerance, insight, acceptance, and respect for our differences. The benefit, of course, is the ability to recognize and maximize the strengths that each individual brings to the workplace.

Contemplating diversity in the workplace from the perspective of a broader range of individual differences, including the influence of generation, allows co-workers and managers to recognize that each person is unique. Today’s complex workplaces cannot survive, nor can they thrive, without this recognition.

Selected References

Gravett, Linda, and Robin Throckmorton. Bridging the Generation Gap: How to Get Radio Babies, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Gen Yers to Work Together and Achieve More. New York: Career Press, 2007

Lancaster, Lynne C., and David Stillman. The M-factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the workplace. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Zemke, Ron, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak. Generations at Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans, Boomers, Xers and Nexters in your Workplace. New York: AMACOM Books, 1999.


About the Author

Heather Swartz

Heather Swartz, M.S.W., C.Med., is a Partner with Agree Incorporated.



A Western Canadian Perspective on the HR Profession in Canada

Todd den Engelsen is currently the Director of Organizational Development with Canyon Technical Services limited. He is Chair of the Human Resource Institute of Alberta (HRIA). Queen’s IRC Research Associate, Alison Hill, spoke with Todd to hear his perspectives on the role of the HR profession, and the challenges that lie ahead.

Todd believes that the future of HR is filled with opportunity and possibility, especially as corporations continue to operate within increasingly complex working environments, on a global scale. To meet these challenges, Todd encourages HR professionals to be continuous learners, to seek out and engage in professional development opportunities, and to cultivate a culture of learning within their organizations.

Download PDF: A Western Canadian Perspective on the HR Profession in Canada

Education Labour Relations In Ontario

The labour relations environment in Ontario’s education sector 1 is both fascinating and dynamic. The late 1970s and 1980s marked a period of relative stability. Conversely, the 1990s were marked by turnover in provincial government, legislatives changes, new policy initiatives, and labour disputes. Not surprisingly, these phenomena dramatically impacted the working relationships between teachers, school administrators, 2 school board staff, educational support workers, and school trustees. A series of new initiatives in the past decade reduced the incidence of labour disruptions significantly and provided some stability, and there is still progress to be made. What is apparent amidst this contextual background is the importance of labour relations to the education sector. Accordingly, this report outlines the key components of the IRC’s Education-Labour Relations in Ontario research initiative.

Included in this report is a summary of research activities, an overview of key areas of inquiry, and an initial discussion of customized professional development for education sector practitioners. The aims of this initiative are threefold. The first aim is to better understand the impacts of systemic and structural factors on labour relations. These factors include collective bargaining practices, policy changes, and labour markets for teachers, school administrators, and support workers. The second aim is to gain insight into the particularities of the labour relations environments in individual schools and school boards, thereby enabling a better understanding of the interplay between systemic and structural factors and those factors that are more localized, producing unique labour relations environments with their own successes and challenges. The third aim is to develop labour relations courses that are customized to meet the professional development needs of a variety of practitioners in the education sector.

Research Activities

Between September 2010 and July 2011, research was conducted with a variety of education sector stakeholders. Information was collected through a number of means, including:

  • Consultations with Ministerial Groups;
  • Interviews and Focus Groups;
  • Participation of Education Sector Stakeholders in IRC Programs; and
  • Province-Wide Surveys of Education Sector Stakeholders.

Consultations with Ministerial Groups. There are a number of groups who consult regularly at the provincial Ministry of Education. These groups include the Council of Directors of Education (CODE), the Minister’s Principals Reference Group (MPRG), the Support Workers Advisory Group (SWAG), and the Tripartite Teacher Advisory Committee (TTAC). Each group meets in person or via conference call four to six times a year to promote ongoing dialogue related to the success of Ontario’s schools. The importance of developing and fostering effective working relationships between stakeholders is a regular subject of discussion at these consultations.

The first stage of the IRC’s research project involved attending and participating in these consultation group meetings. Attendance and participation was useful for a number of reasons. First, it provided opportunities to engage with stakeholders and learn more about the labour relations climate in the education sector. Second, these consultations acted as a mechanism to introduce the agenda and aims of the project to stakeholders in order to solicit their feedback. This dialogue was critical during the development of surveys. Third, and most importantly, it offered opportunities to network and recruit participants for interviews, focus groups, and subsidized participation in IRC programming. Consultation with these groups is ongoing, and provides an important mechanism for feedback regarding the progress of the research initiative.

Interviews and Focus Groups. The second stage of the project involved conducting interviews and focus groups with a variety of stakeholders. Interview and focus group participants include school administrators (e.g. principals and vice-principals), representatives of teachers’ and support workers’ unions, and school board directors, human resource superintendents, and human resource managers. Interviews and focus groups were conducted throughout Ontario in both English and French. Most sessions were conversational, semi-structured, and open-ended. Most focused upon topics, such as the impact of provincial discussion table agreements, the recruitment and retention of education workers and administrators, policy and legislative changes, the political environment, and opportunities for professional development. Although interviews and focus groups are ongoing, a large proportion occurred between November 2010 and March 2011.

Participation of Education Sector Stakeholders in IRC Programs. The third stage of the project involved recruiting education sector labour relations practitioners to attend IRC programs. The purpose of this recruitment was twofold: to introduce stakeholders to the structure, philosophy, and content of programs offered by the IRC, and to determine how to develop programs that best meet the needs of education sector stakeholders. Nearly 20 individuals with a direct role in education sector labour relations attended programs, such as Labour Relations Foundations, Negotiation Skills, Dispute Resolution Skills, and Managing Unionized Environments. Participants were extremely receptive to the IRC-style of professional development, and generally anticipated that the pedagogy and content can be customized to meet the needs of the education sector. This stage is also ongoing, and the IRC welcomes the participation of a number of education sector stakeholders in its upcoming programs listed in the Fall 2011 – Spring 2012 Program Planner.

Province-Wide Surveys of Education Sector Stakeholders. The fourth stage of the project involved developing and delivering surveys to four key groups of education sector labour relations practitioners: school administrators, school board human resources personnel, teachers’ union representatives, and support workers’ union representatives. The surveys focused on three key topics: labour relations, dispute resolution and conflict management, and opportunities for labour relations-focused professional development. Interview participants and the representatives of Ministerial consultation groups provided very helpful feedback during the development stage of these surveys. Surveys were launched online in May 2011. Complete results and analysis are expected in November 2011.

Areas of Inquiry

The initial results of our research have identified four main areas of inquiry that are likely to be of interest to academics, educators, and labour relations practitioners alike. Areas of inquiry include:

  • The Impact of Provincial Discussion Table Agreements;
  • The Roles and Responsibilities of School Administrators;
  • Labour Relations and Educational Support Workers; and
  • Teachers and the Labour Market.

A summary of the data collected pertaining to these areas of inquiry is discussed in some detail below. However, a number of other aspects of labour relations are important to the education sector, and may ultimately be included in this research initiative, reflecting the multi-faceted and dynamic nature of education sector labour relations.

The Impact of Provincial Discussion Table Agreements

In the late 1990s, Ontario’s education sector experienced major restructuring. Two specific changes are particularly noteworthy. First, the number of school boards was reduced from 124 to 72 through amalgamation. Although this reduction seems drastic to some, if follows a decades-long trend towards fewer, larger boards. To put things in perspective, the number of school boards in Ontario was reduced from 3,676 in 1960 to 1,673 in 1965, and subsequently to 186 by 1969. i. Second, the provincial Ministry of Education assumed control of funding for schools. Prior to this, individual boards could increase funding through a local property tax levy. This taxation was done to ensure equality in the funding of schools across the province and to increase government control over education sector budgets.

Around the time of these changes, labour disputes in education were common, if not abnormally high. There have been very few strikes or lockouts in the past eight years, in part due to the recognition by all stakeholders that such disruptions are costly and undesirable and that working relations should be prioritized. The same time period is also witness to a new and evolving system of collective bargaining that began in 2005.

During collective bargaining between public school boards and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) in 2005, negotiators were tasked with incorporating new provincial funding and staffing policies (among other things) into agreements that were previously determined on a board-by-board basis. In order to help reach agreement on certain issues, former Minister of Education, Gerard Kennedy, introduced the idea of framework agreements. Under this system, a master collective agreement that outlined key issues related to funding was negotiated provincially. Individual school boards and teacher bargaining units were responsible for negotiating local issues and ratifying the framework agreements in a manner that fit their specific context.

In 2008, provincial framework agreements were negotiated with all four teachers unions (including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and the Association des enseignantes et enseignants franco-Ontarien). Support workers’ unions also took part in provincial discussion table negotiations. School trustees’ associations played a key role as the provincial representative of school boards during these negotiations.

Unlike the 2005 negotiations, which began partway through collective bargaining, the 2008 process was more formalized and replete with deadlines and incentives. The most significant of these was an August 31st deadline for agreement on key issues, by which school boards would receive enough funding to provide wage increases of 12.5% over the next four years and significant funding increases per student. This deadline was subsequently extended to November 30th to ensure that agreements could be ratified locally. Catholic and French teachers’ unions and their respective boards met this deadline as did support workers’ unions. OSSTF teachers and their respective boards did not agree in principle to the framework until November 30th, and were given an extension in order to ratify the agreements locally. ETFO teachers, who sought wage parity with OSSTF, did not reach an agreement with their respective boards until February 2009. They were provided with a reduced funding package that provided for 10.5% wage increases over four years. This has been a major source of contention.

Although the provincial discussion table negotiations were subject to some criticism, most education sector stakeholders perceived them to be valuable. The negotiation processes and the ultimate terms and conditions of the framework agreements have a number of noticeable impacts on the working relationships between school boards, school administrators, teachers, and support workers. The non-exhaustive list below introduces a number of these impacts.

Prioritization of Provincial Actors. Provincial funding mechanisms reduced the autonomy of school boards and other local stakeholders, particularly as it pertains to financial matters. Two general opinions are related to this incidence. First, if complex and often contentious matters related to wages and finances are left to provincial actors, more time and resources are thus available to local negotiators who can focus on resolving local issues. Second, there is an opinion that regardless of structure, negotiations and decision-making are best done by those with the power to ratify collective agreements. The latter issue is problematic because of a mismatch in the authority wielded by school board and teachers’ union negotiators. By statute, the provincial representatives of teachers’ unions have the authority to sign a collective agreement with an individual school board. Teachers’ and support workers’ unions also tend to have well-defined hierarchies. Conversely, school boards lack formal provincial representation. Representatives of school trustees’ associations may speak on their behalf at provincial discussion tables, often to the ire of teachers’ unions. This arises because trustees are publicly elected and thus political agents, and have no authority to sign a collective agreement. This mismatch has led to some contention between parties and unwillingness to recognize trustees and trustees’ associations as legitimate participants in the process of negotiations.

Interpretation and Relevance of Collective Agreements. The prioritization of provincial actors also impacts the day-to-day relationships between teachers and educational support workers, their unions, and school boards. For example, local actors – those who actually administer the agreements – may misinterpret the intent or language in agreements negotiated provincially. These challenges are consistent with the aforementioned apprehension of some actors to ratify an agreement that was not negotiated by those with the authority to sign them, or by those who are not responsible for working through the challenges that arise in administering such an agreement on a day-to-day basis.

There are also challenges administering a one-size-fits-all agreement in a multitude of contexts. Despite a relatively equitable system of per student funding, some school boards face wildly different logistical and operational challenges. That challenges arise from interpreting and administering framework agreements across boards of different sizes and enrolment levels, and in regions that vary in their population densities and socio-economic context is not surprising. Ensuring adequate room to manoeuvre within those contexts, while maintaining accordance with collective agreements, remains a priority for school boards and unions throughout the province.

Proportional rather than Absolute Salary Increases. Much of the restructuring of education policy in Ontario since the late 1990s was done in order to equalize the amount of per student funding. These funding levels are based on absolute figures. On the other hand, the salary increases of teachers under provincial framework agreements are based on proportional increases. Unlike an absolute increase in salary (e.g. $2,000/year), proportional increases (e.g. 3%/year) privilege teachers in boards whose salary grids were higher under the previously localized systems of collective bargaining. Such a system actually exacerbates existing wage differentials. It is also contentious considering that ETFO teachers received proportional increases lower than their counterparts in the three other teachers’ unions in the last round of negotiations. While some effort has been made to address these differentials, they are likely to be prominent on the bargaining agenda of teachers in 2012.

Length and Scope of Collective Agreements. The provincial framework agreements negotiated in 2005 and 2008 are reasonably long in duration. This length, combined with the centralization of funding and control over financial aspects of education, led to noticeable changes in the interaction of union representatives and school board human resources personnel. Many interview participants noted that since financial matters are of less consequence to labour relations at the board level, they could focus more time on administering the ‘operational’ aspects of collective agreements. Terms and conditions related to matters such as staffing and supervision time were often noted to be those that were the subject of frequent discussion. On one hand, these long-term agreements can allow board-union relationships to mature by fostering an environment where parties engage in dialogue and develop trust in order to address matters in a mutually satisfactory manner. On the other hand, especially in cases where challenges in the working relationships between school boards and union representatives exist (for whatever reason) and trust is at a premium, parties may use this time to dispute interpretations of terms and conditions outlined in collective agreements to achieve zero-sum gains. This is another reason why it is necessary to develop and foster trust in systems, processes, and relationships in the education sector.

A recent study of the emergence and impacts of the provincial discussion table agreements ventures some predictions of the future of education sector bargaining in Ontario. ii. This study points to three conclusions. First, centralization has been driven by successive provincial governments since 1998 in order to assert greater control over education policy, budgets, and collective bargaining outcomes. This shifted key decision-making power away from school boards and towards the Ministry of Education. Second, provincial discussion table negotiations remain dynamic and unstable. The processes of education sector bargaining have evolved, but have not been institutionalized to the same degree as policy and funding. It is likely that the centralization of education sector collective bargaining will continue to some degree, and it is not yet apparent what form they will take or which parties will drive or resist centralization. Third, the perspectives of education sector stakeholders towards the processes and outcomes of provincial discussion table negotiations and framework agreements are decidedly mixed. Centralization has led to increases in student funding and wages at the expense of local autonomy. One point of uncertainty is whether or not provincial discussion table negotiations can evolve and succeed in the absence of significant funding increases.

The Roles and Responsibilities of School Administrators

In 1998, the Ontario Labour Relations Act replaced the Education Act as the default legislation governing teachers and school administrators in Ontario. As a consequence, the managerial roles of school administrators became more prominent and principals and vice-principals were removed from the bargaining units of teachers’ unions. Many principals interviewed felt that this move was designed to ‘draw lines in the sand’ and ensure that administrators prioritized their managerial role over their collegial and educational responsibilities. Viewed from a different perspective, these changes simply reinforced practice and went one step further in formalizing the increasingly important and nodal function of school administrators. In so doing, principals and vice-principals were pulled in multiple directions in order to simultaneously satisfy the interests of school boards, the Ministry of Education, and their teacher colleagues.

A 2001 report by Tom Williams warned of an impending shortage of school administrators. iii. The report found that by 2009, over 80% of Ontario’s principals and vice-principals will reach retirement age. Moreover, it noted evidence of fewer candidates for administrative positions than in the past and far too little succession planning by school boards. At the time, this report was consistent with other projections of shortages of educational workers in Ontario, particularly teachers. And while the supply of qualified teachers currently outpaces demand (for a number of reasons discussed later in this report), acute shortages of administrators remains a challenge for boards across Ontario. Considering the critical logistical, managerial, leadership, and educational responsibilities of principals and vice-principals, as well as their focal role in the relationships between school boards, teachers, support workers, students, parents, and the community, the recruitment and retention of school administrators is extremely important to both this research initiative and the success of Ontario’s education sector.

The IRC’s Education-Labour Relations research initiative identifies a number of reasons for the shortage of administrators. These are discussed below in no particular order. They are in many ways consistent with the deterrents and dissatisfiers identified by Williams 10 years ago.

Relative Salary Increases. The salaries of principals and vice-principals, when compared to those in the broader public and private sectors, are generally competitive. However, relative to the salaries of teachers with ten or more years of experience in a given board, they are only slightly higher when time spent working is considered. One unintended consequence of this may be that more experienced teachers are deterred from applying for administrative positions (as they will see only a marginal increase in their salary), while less experienced teachers – who are in line for a significant increase in salary if they take on an administrative position – have a greater financial incentive to do so.

Time. Not surprisingly, the number of hours worked deters teachers from applying for administrative positions. It is also one of the most common dissatisfiers among those currently working as principals and vice-principals. The difference in time spent at work for principals and vice-principals includes both additional hours at work during the regular school year, as well as more time spent working during the summer months.

Responsibilities. In addition to an increasingly complex set of responsibilities to a variety of stakeholders, the day-to-day operation of schools is ultimately the responsibility of principals. This responsibility includes the ongoing implementation of Ministerial initiatives and an awareness of changes to legislation that affect the workplace (e.g. Bill 168). Many of these activities are solely the responsibility of principals, while others are assumed by principals due to staff illnesses, absenteeism, shortages, and grievances. These additional responsibilities contribute to the complexity and stress of the role of school administrators, and are both a significant deterrent and dissatisfier.

Collegiality and Representation. The restructuring that took place in the late 1990s marks a significant turning point in the occupational histories of many experienced teachers, support workers, and school administrators. The decision to remove principals and vice-principals from teacher bargaining units in 1998 impacted the role of school administrators significantly. According to many, one of the immediate impacts of this change was a reduction in collegiality between administrators and teachers. Many experienced principals lament this decision. They also look back fondly on the period prior to 1998, when they felt that their role was closer to that of an educator than a manager. In fact, many discussed how prior to 1998, it was common for principals to assume key roles in their respective teachers’ federations. The removal of administrators from teacher bargaining units comprised a significant deterrent and dissatisfier at the time of Williams’ report, and remains so today.

A vacuum, of sorts, was left when administrators were removed from teacher bargaining units. This has been filled to some degree by the three principals’ councils: the Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC), the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario (CPCO), and the Association des directeurs and directeurs-adjoint de l’Ontario (ADFO). The managerial responsibilities of school administrators impede representation by traditional trade unions. It is not widely agreed that this style of representation would best meet the needs of principals. Instead, the principals’ councils seek and develop new and innovative ways to represent the interests of school administrators through alternative means. They also play a key role in training and professional development for school administrators in Ontario and elsewhere.

Job Security. While teachers – particularly those with five or more years of experience – enjoy a high amount of job security and accrued seniority benefits, school administrators are not protected by collective agreements. However, the tight market for administrators counters this to some degree. What is more consequential – and a common deterrent for teachers considering administrative roles – is that few mechanisms are available for principals and vice-principals to return to teaching (with accrued seniority and benefits) if they so desire. This reality is currently a subject of discussion in many boards and the principals’ councils, but there does not appear to be any consistent policies or practices across the province.

Ministerial Initiatives. Ontario’s school administrators may be required to implement more than 50 new initiatives and directives on an annual basis. These initiatives may be related to major changes to the structure of education (e.g. all-day Kindergarten), changes to employment legislation (e.g. Bill 168), or policies related to multi-culturalism and anti-discrimination (e.g. anti-homophobia clubs). Few administrators had major philosophical or substantive opposition to such initiatives. What was more concerning to them was the amount of time and resources that they are required to expend so that these initiatives are implemented thoroughly and efficiently. School administrators regularly noted the stress experienced trying to balance their responsibilities to teachers, support workers, and students in their schools, while concomitantly fulfilling their responsibilities to the Ministry of Education.

As teacher and support worker labour relations stabilize to some degree, the role and relationships of school administrators are becoming more complex. Whether or not this stability has merely come at the expense of administrators, it is imperative to recognize the importance of ensuring that administrators are well-trained, confident in their roles, and able to manage their schools and the relationships within in a manner that satisfies the interests of the multitude of stakeholders who depend on them. For these reasons, and others, the roles and responsibilities of school administrators have been identified as a particularly important component of the IRC’s research initiative.

The importance of teachers and their working relationships has been the focus of a significant amount of past research, and rightly so. The role of support workers and the importance of their working relationships to Ontario’s education sector has received little attention from labour relations and human resource management researchers. The majority of support workers belong to unions and are party to collective agreements negotiated at provincial discussion tables in 2008. This step was significant in recognizing the value of support workers to the success of Ontario’s education sector. Also significant is the fact that based on total head count (rather than full-time equivalencies), the number of educational workers in Ontario who are not full-time teachers or school administrators recently surpassed the number of those who are. iv.


This IRC research initiative provides an excellent opportunity to break new ground through the analysis of the contemporary role of educational support workers. One particular goal of this initiative is to better understand and communicate the value of working relationships between support workers and other education sector stakeholders. This enhanced communication will be done through publications and customized professional development. Generally speaking, this report identifies three key aspects of the role of support workers and their working relationships. These are discussed in detail below.

Support Workers, Principals, and Supervisors. The direct supervisor of many support workers is the principal in their schools. The working relationships of principals and support workers are generally good, as most principals recognize the importance of support workers to the operation of their schools. Principals, however, are almost exclusively trained first and foremost as teachers, and are not necessarily expert in any of the specialized roles performed by support workers. One common trait of principals that maintain good working relationships with support workers is that they are well aware that the function of support workers is distinct from – but no more or less important – than that of teachers. They also recognize that the terms and conditions of support workers’ collective agreements are equally different.

In other cases, support workers report directly to a supervisor at the school board, and are overseen on a more regular basis by the principal(s) at the school(s) where they work. This dynamic is interesting. Support workers and board-level supervisors often enjoy a relationship based on their mutual expertise and professional knowledge, while their relationships with principals are based on regular interaction in the context of an individualized school or worksite.

Support Workers and Teachers. These relationships are often complex. As mentioned, most support workers report directly to principals and board-level supervisors. In only very few situations is a teacher the direct supervisor – or boss – of a support worker. However, the reality is that a good deal of educational work is organized in a manner that places certain segments of support workers (e.g. educational assistants, early childhood educators) into complex and ambiguous relationships with teachers. Perhaps the most glaring of these situations is the fact that many support workers perform their duties in a classroom or space that ‘belongs’ to an individual teacher, or that their duties are based on the recommendations of one or more teachers. These complexities are being brought to the forefront, considering the emphasis on differentiated learning and all-day kindergarten. One of the focal points of this IRC initiative is to help understand what factors need to be present to ensure that the working relationships between teachers and support workers are conducive to safe and effective learning and working environments.

Collective Bargaining and Support Workers. The inclusion of support workers in the 2008 provincial discussion table negotiations is of great interest to those involved in this IRC research initiative. During these negotiations, support workers’ union representative negotiated at one of three discussion tables: one for CUPE locals, one for OSSTF support worker locals, and another that was comprised of locals from a number of other unions. vi. Negotiations with support workers went quite well, especially considering the variety of interests of the diverse group of stakeholders in attendance. Although the terms and conditions for support workers persistently varied on factors, such as occupation, board, and region, most made significant gains in material and working conditions through the provincial discussion tables. Many expect a similar – if not evolved – process of bargaining in upcoming negotiations. It is at present unclear, however, whether this style of negotiations will occurs, and if it does, whether it will be based on one central table, or on occupation, union, or some other criteria.

Teachers and the Labour Market

Only ten years ago, it was expected that Ontario would face massive shortages of teachers. These shortages were not realized to their predicted extent. In fact, there is now a massive surplus of qualified teachers in Ontario. School boards regularly report receiving over 100 applications for every permanent teaching position posted. Moreover, the ‘supply lists,’ or rosters of occasional teachers – both short – and long-term – have ballooned. There are a number of reasons for the surplus of teachers, as discussed below.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Benefits. Teaching offers intrinsic and extrinsic benefits that are increasingly scarce in today’s labour market. This scenario is especially the case for younger workers. Competitive salaries and benefits, a well-funded pension, job security, ample vacation time, and the opportunity to engage in the fascinating and rewarding endeavour of being party to the mental, social, and physical development of future generations. Is it any surprise then, that teaching is an increasingly desirable line of work, especially considering the decline in traditional manufacturing sector jobs and the increase in precarious, impermanent, and non-standard forms of employment in many facets of the economy.

Delayed Retirement. The projected shortages of teachers had much to do with the expectation that a large proportion of education sector workers would retire by 2010. Similar to many other occupations, many of Ontario’s teachers choose to work beyond the age of 65. Three factors have contributed to this. First, the elimination of mandatory retirement in Ontario. Second, the improved health and life expectancy of Canadian adults. Third, the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 reduced the values of the pensions and savings of many who had hoped to retire in the recent past. The combination of these factors results in fewer retirements and fewer opportunities for recent graduates of Bachelor of Education programs. It is also likely to result in a ‘logjam’ of job seekers in the event that teachers retire en masse. In other words, it may be some time before the number of qualified applicants is equal, or close, to the number of teaching positions available.

Internationally-Trained Canadian Teachers. Over a decade ago, Faculties of Education from a number of English-speaking countries began actively recruiting undergraduate students from Ontario. This recruitment occurred in response to the projected shortage of teachers and the limited space available in the Faculties of Education at Ontario universities. The majority of Ontario’s teachers trained outside the province are graduates of Faculties of Education in New York. Most of the remainder of teachers graduated from post-secondary institutions in other bordering states (e.g. Michigan), Commonwealth countries (e.g. Australia, New Zealand), and the Republic of Ireland. Tuition at these institutions is generally higher than tuition in Ontario, and admission requirements are generally lower. The training provided is accredited by the Ontario College of Teachers. In some cases, these students may even be able to undertake the placement component of their training in Ontario. It is expected that some thought will be given to this arrangement in the near future, in light of the current labour market situation.

Declining Enrolment. The number of school-aged children has declined alongside domestic birth rates in Ontario. For many school boards, the means a reduced demand for spaces in local schools. Declining enrolment is particularly the case in regions experiencing general population decline. Even in some of Ontario’s most prosperous urban areas (e.g. Toronto), high schools operate well under their capacity and school closures are common. Accordingly, the demand for teachers has decreased in the short-term.

Expectations and Demographics of the New ‘Class’ of Teachers. Ontario’s school-aged populations are among the most culturally diverse in the world. Yet the predominant demographic graduating from Ontario Faculties of Education and pursuing teaching positions are upper-middle class, Canadian-born students. This demographic is partly related to the socio-economic reality of post-secondary education in Canada and the extremely competitive admission requirements of Ontario’s Faculties of Education. It may also – as some studies suggest – be related to the notion that recent and first generation immigrants to Canada do not perceive teaching to be a profession that leads to economic prosperity. vii. Recent graduates of Faculties of Education in Ontario hail increasingly from upper-middle class backgrounds. In the opinion of many interview and focus group participants, it is unlikely that they will expect a material standard of living that is lower than that which they and their families are accustomed. This salary expectation may present challenges in future rounds of collective bargaining, especially if Ontario experiences economic recession and reductions to public spending.

The impact of the current labour market challenges for teachers on working relationships and collective bargaining are as of yet unclear. In many cases, school boards are offered the ‘pick of the litter’ when posting teaching jobs, which can lead to optimal experiences for students. Yet the highly competitive labour market for teachers may prove problematic for the thousands of qualified teachers currently underemployed. It is also likely to prove challenging for school board and union negotiators tasked with maintaining the working conditions and relationships that currently make teaching in Ontario’s public education sector so desirable.

Customized Professional Development for Ontario’s Education Sector

A number of aspects of education labour relations can be effectively addressed through customized professional development. These courses build upon the existing expertise of IRC staff and program facilitators, in a way that focuses on the specific context of education sector labour relations. Two primary audiences have been identified: 1) school administrators and 2) board-level labour relations practitioners (e.g. human resource managers, full-time district- or unit-level union representatives). It is likely that the scope of education-specific professional development will expand in the future, and these audiences have been identified as those that may benefit most from customized courses and workshops. Two streams of programs will be available for school administrators: one for those with less than three years of experience as an administrator, and another for more experienced administrators. The former may focus on aspects of labour relations, such as dispute resolution skills, managing competing and complementary interests, managerial responsibilities in the context of Ontario employment legislation, communication skills, and training in interpreting and understanding the ‘hot spots’ of collective agreements. In addition to some of the content outline above, programs for more experienced school administrators may focus on advanced labour relations skills such as fact-finding and investigation, performance management, and progressive discipline.

Courses for board-level labour relations practitioners are expected to include both board and union representatives. These courses may focus on developing skills related to negotiations, dispute resolution and conflict management, and team-building. This is done in a manner that promotes participation and cooperation from both union and management, in order that both parties learn to approach challenges in partnership and with mutual interests in mind.

Pilot courses are expected to be launched early in 2012. These courses tend to run for a minimum of two days and may be offered in Kingston, Toronto, or any region of Ontario where there is adequate interest. Subsidies may be available. Interested school board personnel and union representatives should contact Queen’s IRC for more information.

Summary and Future Research

This report summarized the research activities and areas of inquiry related to the IRC’s education labour relations initiative. It also introduced the initial development of labour relations-focused courses for education sector practitioners. It is also important to recognize that education sector labour relations are dynamic and that many aspects of an evolving system of collective bargaining are not institutionalized to any great degree. Recent calls for budgetary restraint, debates over public sector labour relations, and the general political climate do little to stabilize or institutionalize the labour relations environment in Ontario’s education sector and beyond. Yet regardless of the results of the provincial election and the policies pursued by future provincial governments, there is little question that education labour relations are a fascinating subject of research and that efforts to foster good working relationships between education sector stakeholders are worthwhile.

1. The education sector refers to publicly-funded K-12 schools in Ontario.

2. The term ‘school administrators’ refers to and is interchangeable with elementary and secondary school Principals and Vice-Principals.

3. Accurate data were not available for 2009.


i. Downie, B. (1992) Strikes, Disputes, and Policy-Making: Resolving Impasses in Ontario Education. Kingston: IRC Press.

ii. Sweeney, B., S. McWilliams, and R. Hickey (2011) The Centralization of Collective Bargaining in Ontario’s Public Education Sector and the Need to Balance Stakeholder Interests. In A. Sweetman and S. Slinn (eds). Dynamic Negotiations: Teacher Labour Relations in Canadian Elementary and Secondary Schools. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

iii. Williams, T. (2001) Unrecognized Exodus, Unaccepted Accountability. Toronto: Ontario Principals’ Council.

iv. These data reflect the total head count of public education employees. They do not reflect full-time equivalencies. The majority of full-time teachers are employed on a 1.0 full-time equivalent basis. Many support workers and occasional teachers are employed on a full-time equivalency of less than 1.0. This should be given consideration when analyzing these statistics.

v. Sources: Statistics Canada, CANSIM TABLE 281-0024; Ontario Ministry of Education Quick Facts, 1998-2008, 2009-2010. The category ‘Teachers’ does not include occasional teachers. The category ‘All Other Public Education Employees’ includes educational support workers, occasional teachers, hourly-paid school board employees, and salaried school board employees.

vi. These included the other teachers’ unions, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, and a number of private sector (e.g. CAW, USW), trade (e.g. Boilermakers), and independent (e.g. Association of Professional Student Services Personnel) unions.

vii. See Grimmett, P and F. Echols (2002) Teacher and Administrator Shortages in Changing Times. Canadian Journal of Education 25(4): 328-343; Schmidt, C. (2010) Moving from the Personal to the Political in IET Scholarship. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy 100: 1-4.

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