Archives for March 2014

Young Workers and the Union Movement in Canada

HR Reporter roundtable - Peter Edwards, Bill Murnighan, Elaine Newman and Anna Goldfinch

Peter Edwards, Bill Murnighan, Elaine Newman and Anna Goldfinch

Many young workers don’t feel connected to the labour movement. They see it as a relic from previous generations, something that may have helped their parents but isn’t helping them, and something that might even be preventing them from obtaining good jobs.  So what can unions do to win over young workers?

This question was discussed at a recent roundtable discussion on the future of unions in the private sector hosted by the Canadian HR Reporter, and sponsored by Queen’s IRC.

Todd Humber, the Canadian HR Reporter’s managing editor, moderated the roundtable discussion. He asked panelists how unions are perceived by the youth, and what unions will need to do to win over the hearts and minds of young workers.

Anna Goldfinch, the national executive representative for the Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, represents 300,000 students in the province of Ontario.  She said that what they are seeing is a job market that’s leaving young people behind.

“The youth unemployment rate is double that of the adult unemployment rate here in the province and we’re seeing a rise in precarious work and underemployment for youth.”

“We’re drowning in debt, because we can’t find jobs, and the jobs that we can find are non-unionized.”

Elaine Newman, an arbitrator and mediator, and instructor for Queen’s IRC, acknowledges the issue of youth underemployment. “They are out of school, with student debt, with nothing but energy and ambition, and they are shut out.”

“As unions reinvent themselves and re-examine the fundamental guiding historic principles like seniority, occasionally someone gets up the nerve to say, is seniority working now that we have this valuable resource that we can’t employ?”

Newman said the value of seniority as a guiding principle is eroded when the young people who can’t get into the system are the sons and daughters of a union’s most senior members.  “All of the sudden the conversation changes and shifts a little bit.  There’s much less conversation about selling out the older people in favor of the younger people, when it’s actually their own children who they’re anxious to see employed.”

Bill Murnighan, the director of Unifor’s research department, says that there’s all sorts of issues in front of the labour market and Canadian workers, including job creation and seniority.

“Seniority and other systems work wonderfully when you have a growing economy.  It’s very simple for people at the bottom to feel that they’re on a ladder that’s moving up.  You have decent pensions, people retire, they go out, and the machinery works.”

However, when you have a stalled or weak economy, these things become more problematic, Murnighan said. But that hasn’t stopped Unifor from trying to recruit more young people.

“We say, let’s keep a decent pension so that people can retire, so there’s actual job creation.  We also try to create employment by getting investment in our facilities.”

Unifor, which represents about 300,000 employees across 20 sectors, is also targeting workplaces with precarious jobs. “One other thing we see is a growing trend around precarious workers and two-tier work,” said Murnighan. “We will not embrace that – the idea that, you can work for $27 dollars an hour and the person beside you will work for $12, and that will be forever more.”

Murnighan said while Unifor wants to create opportunities for youth, they won’t do it by selling out with two-tier work.

What can unions do to attract young workers?

Young workers don’t see themselves fitting into union culture because it doesn’t reflect the lifestyle and the work that they participate in, Goldfinch commented.

“Messaging that comes from unions like ‘the folks that brought you the weekend’ is incredibly effective for those who have weekends. Increasingly, young people don’t actually have weekends – their weekends might be a Monday and every second Thursday,” said Goldfinch.

“They see unions as organizations that represented people like their parents, people who were in Monday to Friday 9 to 5 type of employment, and that’s not for them.

“I think if unions are going to make themselves relevant to youth and to students, they need to start communicating that they are applicable in any work force. The benefits that our parents enjoyed when they were working in a unionized environment are available to young people.”  She said that unions will reflect the priorities of young people as more youth start to participate in them.

Goldfinch said that this very educated, but indebted generation, is in trouble. “I think we need to widen in the conversation to, why are youth and students in precarious jobs? Why aren’t they starting businesses more? Why aren’t they finding jobs in their field or at least good entry-level jobs that have on-the-job training where companies are investing in them as employees? We don’t see that happening.”

Ted Mallett, Vice-President and Chief Economist for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a better future for young workers will come from being entrepreneurial and self-reliant.

He said they see lots of students starting businesses and hitting the ground running. “That’s a positive thing. The Youth Business Foundation is strong and vibrant. It’s creating this kind of mentorship in the universities that has been very positive. The idea that young people are only starting their own firms because they can’t find a job for a big unionized company, that’s not true at all.”

“The rule of thumb is that for every one person that starts a business because they find no other options, there were two or three others who started businesses because they have the confidence to do something,” said Mallett.

“Even with the decline in private sector unions we’ve seen an increase in the standard of living. There have been bumps and scrapes along the way because of the business cycle, but on balance we’re seeing a much stronger self-reliant economy than we’ve ever seen before in Canada.”

Jamie Knight, a partner at labour and employment law firm Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti in Toronto, said we need to work towards a cooperative workforce. He said there’s a need to discuss and reexamine the defined benefit pensions, which are the cornerstone of the trade union movement.  And, he suggested that there’s alternatives to the two-tier system, which impact young workers the most.

“There’s graduated wage systems where there’s an expanded wage grid, where it may take you many, many years to catch up, but there’s eventually a catch up.  That’s quite different from, as Bill described it, a forever two-tier system.”

The outlook for young workers

Anna Goldfinch paints a grim picture of life for young workers. “Tuition fees have rapidly outpaced everything including inflation, food, rent, transportation. Debt is skyrocketing – we’ve hit 19 billion dollars of just federal student loans in this country.”

She said it’s taking longer for students to get jobs, and even longer to get good jobs. “Everything in our lives is being prolonged. It’s harder to get the first job, it’s harder to then get the second job, and it’s harder to start a career. You’re getting your house and your mortgage and starting your family later. We’re seeing lives prolonged, lives put on pause because we haven’t figured out how to invest in youth like we used to. We haven’t figured out how to include them, whether it be by providing them with education, investing in their skills and training, both in the public sector and the private sector.”

But Peter Edwards, Vice-President of human resources and labour relations for Canadian Pacific, and a speaker with Queen’s IRC, disagrees.  He said that the issues that today’s youth are facing are very similar to the youth of previous generations.

“When I graduated, it was hard to get a job, and the first job is the hardest.  And then I disappeared into a vacuum for about five years, and then employers everywhere discovered us and wanted us.”

“Were there hard times before for youth unemployment? Yes. And there will be again.”

He reassured the youth that the delayed onset of getting to those stages of having a home, a mortgage, and a family – they will all come.

“We’re going to have all these challenges and all these problems, and the path forward will always be unclear. I think that everybody’s got a little bit of the solution, but there is no monolithic solution or problem.”

Edwards said it’s all about how we adapt, and speed with which we adapt to the changes. “I think society now asks us to adapt faster, whether or not we want that, we’re not given that choice anymore.”

Watch the Canadian HR Reporter’s full 16-minute video on Youth and the union movement in Canada:

Read our first article from the Canadian HR Reporter Roundtable on the future of unions in the private sector:
The Future of Unions in Canada’s Private Sector: How Can Unions Overcome their PR Problem?

The Government of Alberta’s Organizational Design Journey

In early 2013, the Government of Alberta (GoA) Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education’s review of their organizational structure began. This was part of an overall GoA-wide commitment to reviewing ministry structures. The intent was to ensure that the roles within the organization and branch/divisional structures, aligned with the current and future business needs. The executive team supported this approach and agreed that the Queen’s IRC’s model of organizational design, or the 4-D’s, was the process the department would use to complete the reviews.

The Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education’s Human Resource (HR) department was tasked with taking a lead role. Our Executive Director of HR was very proactive and supportive by ensuring that as many HR consultants and managers as possible had taken the Queen’s IRC Organizational Design course. The HR department temporarily structured themselves in a way that would allow for the focus of this work. We created a team of eight HR consultants and managers whose primary role for 6-8 months would be working with divisions and branches, using the model and implementing the design down to the employee level. This opportunity was a new way of working for HR, and the approach was also new for our clients. Our goal was to have all divisions complete their review by March of 2014.  Putting the 4-D’s into operation across six divisions, and multiple branches was going to be a large challenge in such a short period.  Human Resource consultants and managers were the key facilitators. Previous branches within the Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education had completed design work using the 4-D’s, so we knew the process worked well.

As we started the work, we also began drafting a guide which all of us could draw from for each group we were working with.  We created ‘design teams’ which consisted of employees at all levels and who could best represent the work across a division or branch. We used the recently updated competencies of the GoA, including systems thinking, innovation, and creativity as examples of criteria for choosing the design team members. We agreed that as part of our continuous learning, HR would meet as a group every Monday morning for 45 minutes to review lessons learned, share experiences, and update each other on progress.

We began the work with senior leader discussions on the model, and an orientation with our design teams. We reinforced the process, and started the conversations by completing 2-day kickoff sessions. Following the 2-day kickoff, we met approximately one day per week for about 2-3 months.  Each session informed the next, and we trusted the process to get us where we needed to be.  We ensured senior leaders were part of the discussions as needed, and kept them in the loop regarding progress.  The responsibility of communicating to the organization was given to the design team members so they were actively engaged in the change conversations.

After multiple sessions were completed, we developed design prototypes which were conceptual in nature and included narratives to provide context. Each division or branch worked on more than one prototype.  To ensure buy in, and that all employees had input, we invited divisional staff to ‘town halls’ which provided an opportunity for every employee to give feedback on the designs. The town halls became an opportunity to engage with all staff as well as get their feedback.

The final stage, after revising our prototypes from all employee input, was final approval by the Assistant Deputy Ministers and their senior leaders. Once approved, we moved into implementation. Implementation required HR consultants and managers to work closely with branches and units to determine work that would change, and potential new roles.

Overall, this work has transformed our HR department, as our work has now extended beyond the traditional core functions of human resources and our clients have seen the value of the human resources role in this work.

The design process is built on shared understanding and dialogue. It takes time to complete the process and implement it.  But through this process, we learned that using the collective wisdom of the employees across an organization is very powerful.  Many senior leaders have said it was unlikely they would have come up with the designs that their teams did on their own.

However, our story is not complete.  We made tremendous progress this year, but the work continues.  We built an evaluation framework to assess the processes we used during the design and implementation.  It will also evaluate the outcomes from the new designs one year from now. Hopefully, we will see that the designs have contributed to meeting the future business needs of the GoA.

As one HR employee noted “if you want to change a culture of both the ministry or a work unit, go through a design process with them.”


About the Authors

Dianna Wilk is the Executive Director of Human Resources with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.

Judi Carmichael is the Director of Human Resource Consulting, with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.

Marina Christopherson is the Director of Human Resource Strategies, with the Ministry of Innovation & Advanced Education & Job Skills Training and Labour, for the Government of Alberta.


The Professionalization of Human Resources

The Professionalization of Human ResourcesOn its annual member survey, the Human Resources Professionals Association asks the following question: “Do you agree that the professionalization of HR is, or should be, an important issue for the profession?”  In 2013, 89.4% of respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with this statement—this represents as much agreement as one is likely to find on any question.  Clearly, the professionalization of HR is an issue that is important to HR professionals—but what does it mean to professionalize HR?  Where do we currently stand?  And what are the next steps or challenges ahead?

Millerson (1964) defined professionalization as the process by which an occupation undergoes transformation to become a profession.  More recently, Hodson and Sullivan (2012) stated that professionalization can be understood as the effort by an occupational group to raise its collective standing by taking on the characteristics of a profession.  Borrowing from these definitions, we can define the professionalization of Human Resources as the process by which Human Resource professionals collectively strive to achieve the recognition and status that is accorded to the established professions by emulating or adopting the defining characteristics of the established professions.

The process of professionalization is complex—it also doesn’t help that there is a lack of consensus as to the meaning of the term ‘professionalization’, or the term ‘professionalism’ for that matter (Evans, 2008; Hargreaves and Goodson, 1996).  Most of the literature on professionalization stems from the field of sociology.  When sociologists think of ‘professionalism’ they usually focus on the institutional aspects such as the existence of a regulatory body, legal recognition as a profession, formal training programs, and the existence of codes of ethics.  This is different than what most non-sociologists have in mind when they think of ‘professionalism’ (see for instance, the document entitled ‘Elements of professionalism’ authored by the Chief Justice of Ontario Advisory Committee on Professionalism, 2001).  Here the focus is often on individual aspects such as the behaviours, attitudes, and values characteristic of the members of a professional group.  But even the sociological literature has begun to give more attention to those individual aspects of professionalism (Evans, 2008).  Indeed, the term ‘professionality,’ introduced by Hoyle (1974), has begun to be used to refer to the individual aspects such as the behaviours, attitudes, and values characteristic of members of a professional group.

Although the distinction between ‘professionalism’ and ‘professionality’ has certainly not made its way into common usage, the distinction between the institutional aspects and the individual aspects of professionalism and professionalization is useful and particularly germane to the profession of HR at this point in time.

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