Queen’s University IRC 2015 Workplace in Motion Summit Proceedings

The world of work is changing, and the most successful organizations and practitioners are those that understand how these changes impact the way they do business. To help them do so, and to foster further dialogue, Queen’s IRC hosted the Workplace in Motion Summit in Toronto on April 16th, 2015. Over 100 human resource, labour relations, and organizational development professionals from across Canada attended the Summit. Chaired by IRC facilitator Brenda Barker Scott, the Summit provided a forum to stimulate new ideas and new perspectives on the dynamic new world of work.

The Summit focused on a variety of questions of interest to today’s human resource, labour relations, and organizational development professionals. More specifically, it helped participants:

  • Identify issues and best practices related to current trends and practices in human resource manage­ment, labour relations, and organizational development.
  • Explore how rapidly emerging technologies are shaping and re-shaping modern workplaces and the way we work.
  • Investigate the impact of changing demographics on contemporary organizations.

This was all done with the intent of identifying how they can better lead change and promote excellence within and beyond their organizations and professional networks.

Over the course of the Summit, several themes emerged that were particularly critical to today’s human resource, labour relations, and organizational development professionals. These included the need to:

  • Manage change and transformation in order to advance organizational and professional interests with as little disruption as possible.
  • Create the physical space, infrastructure, technologies, and systems necessary to support a collaborative, open, and innovative workplace and work culture.
  • Engage, retain, and motivate the new generation of employees and to bridge inter-generational gaps in the workplace.
  • Think outside the box in order to appropriately encourage risk-taking and innovation.

This report elaborates on the most important questions, issues, and themes identified by Summit participants going forward.

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An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada in 2013: Executive Summary

Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre (Queen’s IRC) is pleased to announce the release of An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada in 2013. This executive summary is based on a survey of over 400 HR practitioners and explores the current and changing state of the HR profession in Canada. It also compares the findings with our 2011 survey, An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada in 2011.

The questions in the first section of the survey were designed to better understand the demographic characteristics of HR practitioners, their roles and responsibilities, the characteristics of the organizations for which they work, and the career development strategies of HR practitioners. This section of the survey plays an extremely important role in determining who is practicing HR, where HR practitioners fit into contemporary organizations, and the strategies used by HR practitioners and their organizational sponsors to develop and advance individual careers and the profession as a whole.

The second section of the survey sought practitioners’ perspectives on the HR profession in Canada. It  included questions about the extent to which the HR function shapes organizations’ strategic directions, the importance of various activities to the HR function, practitioners’ involvement in the same activities, the knowledge and skills required by practitioners, the HR challenges facing organizations, practitioners’ outlook on the future of HR in Canada, and organizational HR priorities. This section included both qualitative and quantitative questions. This mixed methodology is important in understanding the broader trends and challenges facing HR practitioners and the profession as a whole.

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An Inquiry into the State of HR in the Caribbean

Queen’s IRC has begun to develop a strong working relationship with the HR community in the Caribbean. Partnerships with the Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados and the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business in Trinidad and Tobago have allowed the IRC to bring its unique brand of programming to practitioners from almost a dozen Caribbean nations. Building partnerships such as these are critical to understanding the innovations and challenges in the global HR community. They have also allowed Queen’s IRC to extend our research beyond Canadian borders.

This report summarizes and analyzes the results of a survey of HR practitioners from the Caribbean conducted in 2012. The survey is a key component of the IRC’s commitment to engaging with international practitioner communities. More specifically, the results of the survey provide insight into several key aspects of Caribbean HR practitioners’ working lives. These include the demographic characteristics of practitioners, their roles and responsibilities, the nature of the organizations for which they work, their education and career development, the knowledge and skills required to thrive in the Caribbean, and of course, their perspectives on important issues, innovations and challenges in the HR profession today. The information in this report provides an important foundation to track ongoing trends and innovations in the Caribbean HR community and serves as a useful comparator when combined with recent (and forthcoming) surveys of Canadian HR practitioners.

Download PDF: An Inquiry into the State of HR in the Caribbean (2012)

Success through Succession: A Review of Recent Literature

In November 2012, Queen’s IRC launched a new program, Succession Planning, to an enthusiastic group of practitioners in Calgary. As an ice-breaking exercise, Queen’s IRC Director, Paul Juniper, asked participants to discuss their organizations’ plans in the event of a sudden loss of key leadership. While the discussion and ideas that came out of this exercise were stimulating and informative, they also confirmed two trends widely noted by practitioners, academics, and policy-makers alike. First, succession planning is increasingly critical to organizations of all sizes and in all industries or sectors. Second, most organizations have given succession planning some thought, but have yet to fully develop and implement an effective plan for the inevitable succession of managers and key employees at all levels.

This research brief complements the IRC’s recent focus on succession planning. It does this by providing an overview of contemporary academic perspectives on the need for effective succession plans. This review provides a helpful tool for practitioners and organizations seeking to develop, implement, maintain, or augment a succession plan that meets their organization’s specific needs. It includes an overview of effective elements in organizational succession plans, issues related to the succession of key leaders, the transfer of knowledge through succession planning, succession planning relative to the size of an organization, and succession planning in three components of the public sector (municipal administration, education, and health care).

Succession planning can be defined as a “systemic, long-term process of determining goals, needs, and roles within an organization and preparing individuals or employee groups for responsibilities relative to work needed within an organization” (Luna, 2012, p. 60). Succession planning was initially conceived of as a risk management strategy designed to mitigate the loss of key leaders in large organizations (Rothwell, 2010). Over time, however, succession planning has evolved into much more than this. Today, succession planning serves as a tool to manage knowledge and change, develop leadership capacity, build smart teams, and retain and deploy talent in a manner that helps an organization operate to its greatest potential (Groves, 2003). Doing so is increasingly important for several reasons. First, as Fink (2010) notes, individuals are becoming more and more strategic in their own career development and job searches. It is, therefore, increasingly important that organizations follow suit and develop strategies to ensure that they are able to attract and retain talent. Second, the complex nature of work and business in both the private and public sectors means that organizations cannot rely on the serendipitous replacement of talent, nor can they expect to have a pool of willing and qualified candidates ready and waiting, even during a recession (Fink & Brayman, 2006; Zepeda et al., 2012). Organizations must be proactive in identifying and developing qualified talent that can be called upon during both expected and unplanned succession events. Third, and importantly, planning for succession is necessary to maintain and develop knowledge and talent in a volatile political economy marked by international competition and the omnipresent need to be cost effective (Griffiths, 2012). By effectively planning for succession, organizations can realize cost savings and achieve the synergies necessary to thrive within the rapidly evolving contexts in which they operate. Finally, effective succession planning instills confidence in the employees of an organization (Bolt, 1989) and improves buy-in to the organization’s culture (Clunies, 2007). These are critical components not only of the successful operation of an organization on a day-to-day basis, but of the longer-term satisfaction and retention of employees.

Developing effective succession plans is also critical considering current demographic and economic trends. Many large companies and public sector organizations will face a dramatic turnover of key leaders in the next decade, as the ‘baby boomers’ (those born between 1945 and 1964) withdraw from the workforce en masse (Appelbaum et al., 2012). Ensuring that the wealth of knowledge accrued by this generation is transferred to younger generations—who will inevitably assume key leadership roles—with minimal impact on productivity is of the utmost importance. Moreover, the recent recession has exacerbated these challenges, as senior managers have delayed retirement in light of economic insecurity and the relaxation of mandatory retirement legislations (Luna, 2012; Masterson, 2011). This has prolonged managerial tenure in the short-term, while disrupting the leadership pipeline in the long-term (Leland et al., 2012). Without an effective plan for succession alongside increased retirements, organizations are likely to face crises in leadership. One consequence of this is that there may eventually be more urgency to select and develop managers from a smaller pool of applicants and with a steeper learning curve. Organizations are also more likely to face an increased frequency of succession events and leadership vacuums, which are fraught with risk and tend to lead to reactive (rather than proactive) decisions (Leland et al., 2012). Considering all of these factors, it is increasingly important to develop an effective succession plan sooner rather than later, and it is never too late to get started.

Elements of Effective Succession Plans

It is necessary to distinguish between a succession plan and an effective succession plan. Moreover, it is absolutely critical to understand the barriers to developing and implementing an effective succession plan. These barriers include (but are by no means limited to): organizational culture, low ascribed priority from top management and key leaders, insufficient resources for development and implementation, inadequate rewards (or a lack of understanding of the often hard-to-measure benefits of succession planning), ‘siloed’ employee groups and limited intra-organizational mobility or opportunity, a lack of role models or framework plans to provide a point of reference, and intensified competition for talent and leadership from other sectors or organizations (NAPA, 1997). Organizational complexity and both intra- and extra-organizational politics may also act as barriers to effective succession planning (Leland et al., 2012). In short, giving consideration to these barriers and their impacts is an imperative step in developing an effective succession plan.

A great deal of literature outlines the key aspects of an effective succession plan. Perhaps the most critical overarching requirement of any succession plan is that it is proactive and designed as part of an organization’s broader strategic plan (Rothwell, 2010). More specifically, effective succession plans should be prepared earlier rather than later, include adequate time for preparation on the behalf of all parties involved, be incorporated alongside all other improvement or restructuring plans, outline the roles and responsibilities of all parties (not just top management), give adequate consideration to present and anticipated needs, and be transparently linked to necessary standards and competencies (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006). Furthermore, the most effective plans pay close attention to managerial and leadership development at all levels of the organization, receive ongoing commitment from top management, are well communicated throughout the organization, dictated by organizational strategy, and, importantly, incorporated into recruitment, selection, retention, and development mechanisms (Reid & Gilmour, 2009). Continuity is also crucial; it is not unknown for a well-designed succession plan to exist on paper only to fade away after facing initial challenges, or more commonly, to be only partially or unevenly implemented (Charan, 2008).

It is also necessary to design a succession plan that accurately reflects the needs of an individual organization. In particular, the size of the company and their expected growth rate are important considerations when designing effective succession plans (Zepeda et al., 2012). For example, a highly rigid and formalized succession plan may be inconsistent with the needs of smaller employers, especially those with few formal leadership positions and those that thrive on flexibility. Rather, a plan focused on the diffusion of knowledge—both codified and tacit—throughout the organization may be most effective. Conversely, larger organizations and those that expect a moderate to high rate of growth or expansion in the immediate future may find more benefit in defining the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve success in specific roles in order to identify individual employees who may be willing and able to assume those roles. Moreover, private sector organizations tend to concern themselves more with planning for the succession of top management (Pissari et al., 2010), while public sector organizations—which often have well-defined job ladders and organizational designs—emphasize promotion from within at all levels as a means to develop and retain talent (Reilly, 2008).

Succession Planning and Key Leaders

The succession of senior management—namely the CEO—is the focus of a significant proportion of research on succession planning. One of the primary questions in this regard surrounds the decision to hire CEOs internally or through an external search, and their immediate impact on strategic change and organizational performance (Hutzshcenreuter et al., 2012). Each has advantages and disadvantages. Appointing a CEO from outside the organization is generally perceived to be prudent when a significant change in organizational strategy is necessary. Not only does a successor from outside the organization bring new perspectives, he or she is also devoid of social ties and other ‘baggage’ (Kesner & Dalton, 1994). However, outside succession often results in greater turnover of other members of the executive team than inside succession. Executives may feel demoralized for being passed over in favour of an outsider (Helmich & Brown, 1972) or loyalty to the predecessor may cause them to resign (Friedman & Saul, 1991). New leaders may also feel pressured to make changes simply as a means to demonstrate their authority. In so doing, they may reverse or restructure potentially productive decisions made by their predecessor, or reorient firm strategy in a manner consistent with their own experience rather than with the needs of the organization (Weisbach, 1995). Furthermore, it is widely noted that an organization can only digest a certain amount of change at once. If a succession event that results in the appointment of an external CEO comes during or immediately following a significant amount of change or restructuring, his or her ability to positively affect or implement new changes will be limited (Hutzschenreuter et al., 2012).

Internal candidates are often perceived to be the best choice in the succession of a CEO in organizations that are highly complex, multi-divisional, and international (see Conger & Fulmer, 2003). Not surprisingly, they are also thought to be a relatively safe choice for firms that are generally satisfied with their strategic direction and those that are interested in seeing through the development and implementation of a strategic plan already underway. However, internally-promoted CEOs have a diminished capacity to exercise real change to organizational strategy in the short-term (Bigley & Wiersema, 2002). The promotion of ‘heir apparent’ or pre-determined candidates may also be viewed as ineffective favoritism (Ibarra, 2005), especially in cases where the successor had a close personal relationship with the predecessor, and in the public sector (Luna, 2012).

Succession Planning and Knowledge Transfer

Succession planning is an extremely useful tool to help manage the transfer and diffusion of knowledge within an organization. Knowledge, both tacit and codified, is one of the most important sources of competitive advantage in contemporary organizations (Pfeffer, 1998). Additionally, succession planning can be used as a means to generate knowledge in order to achieve cost and operational efficiencies (Peet, 2012). Several research projects examine innovative ways to access, transfer, and generate knowledge within organizations in a number of different contexts. Not surprisingly, the potential loss of knowledge via retirement is of great concern, particularly in the private sector.

Koc-Menard (2009) suggests phased or flexible retirement arrangements, as well as corporate alumni networks to help manage knowledge. Appelbaum et al. (2012b) describe the value in providing training to senior leaders with plans to retire in the next five years. They note that training should not necessarily be directed to the acquisition of hard skills or competencies, but rather, should focus on soft skills related to public speaking, teaching, and multi-generational communication strategies. Senior leaders could then be tasked with running training, learning, and mentoring sessions for potential successors, concomitantly transferring, and generating knowledge while maintaining high levels of motivation and affirmation. Peet (2012) examines in detail the innovative practice of generative knowledge interviewing (GKI). The GKI process involves experiential-based or story-telling interviews between potential successors and senior leaders. The potential successor, or interviewer, attempts to “dwell within” the narrative of the senior leader being interviewed in a manner that allows them to document and verify the core capacities and key knowledge necessary to perform the tasks of the interviewee (p. 49). Peet also suggests that the GKI is best conducted on an ongoing (yet finite) basis. In one instance central to her research, she found that the GKI process resulted in immediate savings and benefits as a result of a better organizational understanding of the knowledge and capacities required for success in individual roles.

Succession Planning and Organization Size

The larger and more complex an organization is, the more essential it is to have an effective succession plan. Firms that fit this description are likely to incur greater costs when external candidates assume key leadership positions (Naveen, 2006). This is due not only to the resources directed to the job competition, but more importantly, to the high costs associated with the transfer of organization-specific knowledge to the successor. In these cases, an effective succession plan should meet several criteria (Conger & Fulmer, 2003). First, responsibility and commitment to the plan must be assumed not only by HR professionals and the executive team, but by local unit and division managers, and everyone in between. Without active commitment from top management and regular measurement of progress and process by HR, unit leaders may see more value in hiding or hoarding those with the most potential.

On the other hand, an effective succession plan encourages unit or division managers to identify potential high performers and leaders, knowing that apparent successors exist in the event that key local personnel or promoted. Moreover, large organizations are likely to find value in developing a succession plan that identifies ‘linchpin’ positions or roles that are at once critical to the organization and provide managers with exposure to multiple facets of the business, that focuses on the development of broadly-conceived skill sets through job rotation and mentoring, and that is flexible enough to meet the needs of a dynamic business environment. For example, Conger and Fulmer (2003) note that of the best practice companies involved in their study (Bank of America, Dow Chemical, and Eli Lilly), none expected their current plan to exist for more than one year without modification or revision.

Succession planning is also particularly important in small manufacturing enterprises, family-owned businesses, and the increasing number of highly specialized organizations that provide support for larger, coordinating firms (as examples, these organizations are particularly prevalent in Canada’s mining and energy sectors). For many of these firms, the loss of key individuals would jeopardize profitability or even the ability of the organization to continue operating. Smaller firms may also lack the flexibility and buying power of larger organizations, and are often unable to offer equally competitive wage and benefit packages or opportunities for advancement (O’Gorman, 2006). Moreover, in an era where profit margins are often razor thin, the owners and managers of smaller firms are unlikely to have the time to develop and implement a comprehensive succession plan. However, some type of succession planning remains important for smaller organizations, especially considering the aging workforce and skill shortages in several critical areas (Burke, 2011).

When planning for succession in smaller organizations, it is crucial to understand succession as a series of change processes over time, rather than a singular event (Bjomberg & Nicholson, 2012). Successors may be identified earlier and more explicitly, and may be afforded more control and autonomy than in larger organizations with more and more highly specific roles to fill. The succession process may therefore take place over a number of years and through a number of stages (Chrisman et al., 1998). This permits the development of critical skills under the watchful eye of more experienced owners and managers.

Succession Planning in the Public Sector

Municipal Administration

Succession planning in municipal administration has several particularities. The most notable of these is the fact that even in the most stable municipal governments, there is regular turnover in key leaders (Leland et al., 2012). Therefore, it is often beyond the mandate of elected leaders to plan for succession, as it may be outside their scope of work. Furthermore, successors may seek to implement initiatives that are wildly different than their predecessors, which may lead to succession plans that are ultimately scrapped and that constitute an inefficient use of scarce resources. Fiscal constraints and calls for austerity have also created a situation that limits the time that HR professionals can spend planning for succession, as they are generally and rightfully more concerned with fulfilling immediate, day-to-day obligations, than planning for an uncertain future. The shroud of politics is also a major consideration in municipalities, especially when promotions and advancement are considered. Research by Jarell and Pewitt (2007) suggests several courses of action and considerations for those seeking to plan for succession in municipalities. First, they note that managers can insulate themselves from the vagaries of politics by using outside consultants to provide objective assistance in developing a plan. They also note that having frank and open conversations about retirement—especially with older managers—is increasingly important to effective succession planning in municipal administration.


Challenges in succession planning in both K-12 and post-secondary education are widely documented (Luna, 2012; Sweeney, 2012; Wallin, 2007; Zepeda et al., 2012). In both instances, researchers discuss how the role of educational leaders—including public school principals, school boards directors and superintendents, and university department heads and senior administrators—are increasingly complex and less desirable to preferred candidates. Compounding this is the fact that the majority of educators entered the profession to work as such, and do not necessarily possess the willingness or formal training that meet the needs of today’s education institutions. At the same time, educational leaders are being recognized as increasingly integral to a sector confronting calls for reform and restructuring from multiple fronts. Greater consideration for effective succession planning in education is therefore critical. However, doing so has proven difficult for several systemic and political reasons, including those mentioned above, as well as the public perception that time and resources spent on anything but the direct delivery of educational services constitutes administrative bloat and an irresponsible use of tax dollars (Greene et al, 2010). Public education institutions also lack the flexibility of private businesses in recruiting and hiring leaders and senior administrators, and are generally required to be more transparent and compliant with equal opportunity hiring practices (Zepeda et al., 2012). They also have relatively high rates of succession events, which can be disruptive or at best distracting when done on an ad hoc basis (Wahlstrom et al., 2010).

What, then, can be done to improve succession planning in the education sector? Identifying successors for educational leadership positions tends to be taken on by individual champions rather than by institutions as a whole (Caldwell, 2007). This, however, does not constitute a long-term solution to the challenges facing the sector. In public education, where several well-defined levels of management exist, it is important to engage in succession planning at all levels. Also important is a need to understand the complex labour relations climate in public education, where teachers are unionized almost exclusively and where union density among support staff is much higher than average. Demystifying and providing support for successors in this aspect of education may help increase the pool of willing successors. In short, an effective succession plan in the education sector can create a better informed and more qualified employee base that understands the needs of the organization and demonstrate a greater willingness to take on leadership roles (Wallin, 2007).

Health Care

Skill and worker shortages as a result of improper succession planning can result in inadequate staffing and poor performance in all aspects of the delivery of health services; something that is increasingly essential to an aging Canadian population. In particular, evidence demonstrates that effective succession planning and the quality of care in nursing are inextricably linked (Needleman et al., 2012). However, one of the most pressing challenges facing health care practitioners—particularly in hospital settings—is maintaining adequate leadership. According to Griffiths (2012), the most important step in addressing leadership shortcomings in health care is to actively recruit employees with demonstrated leadership ability, and to foster that ability from the outset. Moreover, the vast majority of health care practitioners have strong educational backgrounds, often with a focus on problem-solving and group learning techniques. In a study of succession planning at the world-class University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, Wolf et al. (2006) found a multi-faceted plan that incorporates the identification of different types of leaders (e.g. operational, strategic), ongoing employee self-assessments of competencies, and mechanisms to identify competency and leadership gaps throughout the organization. Not only did this plan improve general performance and morale within this large hospital, but led to an initial return on investment of $500,000 in the first year, and a projected savings of $38,000,000 in the long term!


This literature review provides an overview of several key areas of research related to succession planning. What is most evident is that there is significant value in developing and implementing succession plans, so long as care is taken to ensure the plan fits the organizational context. Factors such as organizational structure and design, workforce demographics, firm size, and sector are important considerations in developing and implementing an effective and sustainable succession plan. The capture and transfer of important tacit knowledge related to the organization and its individual roles are also an important aspect of succession planning and the focus of a great deal of research. By engaging with succession planning as a tool for knowledge management, organizations can not only retain the expertise of key employees, but actually build upon it to create value, cost efficiencies, and improved employee morale.


About the Author

Brendan Sweeney, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Queen's IRC

Dr. Brendan Sweeney has over ten years of experience teaching and researching labour relations in Canada and the US, with a particular emphasis on the forest industry and public education. In addition to Queen’s, Brendan has experience working and teaching at McMaster University, the University of Washington, and the University of Manitoba. Brendan’s research has been widely recognized, and he has received several awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, the Labor and Employment Relations’ Association’s 2012 Best Paper Award, the University of Manitoba Teaching Excellence Award, and the Canadian Association of Geographers’ 2010 New Scholar Award for Excellence in Publication. Brendan’s research is featured or forthcoming in almost a dozen high-profile academic journals.

Brendan also has extensive experience as a high-performance athlete and coach. In addition to a distinguished collegiate lacrosse career, Brendan has coached men’s and women’s lacrosse at Queen’s (earning the 2005 OUA Coach of the Year Award) and women’s lacrosse at the University of Washington. He currently coaches both the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams at McMaster and the Burlington Chiefs Sr. A. women’s lacrosse club. He also received his high-performance coaching certification from the NCCP in May 2012.



Appelbaum, S., Benyo, C., Gunkel, H., Ramadan, S., Sakkal, F. and Wolff, D. 2012. Transferring corporate knowledge via succession planning: analysis and solutions – Part 1. Industrial and Commercial Training, 44(5), pp. 281-289.

Appelbaum, S., Benyo, C., Gunkel, H., Ramadan, S., Sakkal, F. and Wolff, D. 2012b. Transferring corporate knowledge via succession planning: analysis and solutions – Part 2. Industrial and Commercial Training, 44(7), pp. 379-388.

Bigley, G. and Wiersema, M. 2002. New CEOs and corporate strategic refocusing: how experience as heir apparent influences the use of power. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(4), pp. 707-727.

Bjomberg, A. and Nicholson, N. 2012. Emotional ownership: the next generation’s relationship with the family firm. Family Business Review, 25(4), pp. 374-390.

Bolt, J. F. (1989). Executive development: a strategy for corporate competitiveness. New York: Harper and Row.

Burke, R. 2011. Human resource management in small- and medium-sized enterprises: benefits and challenges. In Cooper, C. and Burke, R. (eds.) Human resource management in small businesses. Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, pp. 10-67.

Caldwell, A. 2007. Elements of effective succession planning: a working paper for the UCEDDs. Silver Springs, MD: Association of University Centers on Disabilities.

Charan, R. 2008. Leaders at all levels. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Chrisman, J., Chua, J., and Sharma, P. 1998. Important attributes of successors in family businesses: an exploratory study. Family Business Review, 11(1), pp. 19-34.

Clunies, J. 2007. Benchmarking succession planning and executive development in higher education: is the academy ready now to employ these corporate paradigms? Journal of Academic Leadership, 2(4), pp. 321-340.

Conger, J. and Fulmer, R. 2003. Developing your leadership pipeline. Harvard Business Review, 81(12), pp. 76-84.

Fink, D. 2010. The succession challenge: building and sustaining leadership capacity through succession management, Sage: Thousand Oaks.

Fink, D. and Brayman, C. 2006. School leadership succession and the challenges of change.

Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(1), pp. 62-89.

Friedman, S. and Saul, K. 1991. A leader’s wake: organization member reactions to CEO succession. Journal of Management, 17(3), pp. 619-642.

Greene, J., Kisida, B. and Mills, J. 2010. Administrative bloat at American universities: the real reason for high costs in higher education (Policy Report No. 239). Phoenix, AZ: Goldwater Institute.

Griffiths, M. 2012. Effective succession planning in nursing: a review of the literature. Journal of Nursing Management, 20, pp. 900-911.

Groves, K. 2003. Integrating leadership development and succession planning best strategies. Journal of Management Development, 26(3), pp. 239-260.

Hargreaves, A. and Fink, D. (2006), Sustainable Leadership. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

Helmich, D. and Brown, W. 1972. Successor type and organizational change in the corporate enterprise. Administrative Science Quarterly, 17(3), pp. 371-381.

Hutzshcenreuter, T. Kleindienst, I. and Greger, C. 2012. How new leaders affect strategic change following a succession event: a critical review of the literature. The Leadership Quarterly, 23, pp. 729-755.

Ibarra, P. 2005. Succession planning: an idea whose time has come. Public Management, 87, pp. 18-24.

Jarell, K. and Pewitt, K. 2007. Succession planning in government: case study of a medium-size city. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 27, pp. 297-309.

Kesner, I and Dalton, D. 1994. Top management turnover and CEO succession: an investigation of the effects on turnover and performance. Journal of Management Studies, 31(5), pp. 701-713.

Koc-Menard, S. 2009. Transfer after retirement: the role of corporate alumni networks. Development and Learning in Organizations, 23(2), p. 9.

Leland, S., Carman, J. and Swartz, N. 2012. Understanding managerial succession planning at the local level: a study of the opportunities and challenges facing cities and counties. National Civic Review, Summer, pp. 44-50.

Luna, G. 2012. Planning for an American higher education leadership crisis: the succession issue for administrators. International Leadership Journal, 4(1), pp. 56-79.

Masterson, K. 2011. Encouraging faculty retirement goes beyond the financial, college presidents say. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 57(28), A19.

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School Administrators’ Perspectives on Labour Relations: Survey Results and Analysis

School administrators are extremely important to Ontario’s publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools. While much focus is placed on their role as educational leaders, their duties as the frontline supervisors of teachers and educational support workers is often overlooked. The IRC has thus engaged in significant research related to the roles, responsibilities, and relationships of principals and vice-principals in the area of labour relations.

This report is based on a survey of school administrators in two regions of Ontario. It probes several areas, such as administrators’ perspectives on the labour relations environment, the relationships between administrators and staff, the role of administrators in conflict management and dispute resolution, and the potential effectiveness of labour relations-focused professional development for school administrators and other education sector stakeholders.

The results of the survey yield several conclusions. First, the labour relations environment is perceived by school administrators to be better in individual schools than in school boards or in the education sector as a whole. Second, school administrators generally have good working relationships with most other stakeholders, but these relationships have deteriorated in the recent past. Third, school administrators prefer to manage conflict and resolve disputes within their school, but are often left out of the process by school board managers and union representatives. Fourth, there is a general consensus that labour relations-focused professional development for school administrators would benefit the education sector. It also appears that the labour relations environment in school boards that provide such professional development are amiable and conducive to student and teacher success.

Download PDF: School Administrators’ Perspectives on Labour Relations: Survey Results and Analysis

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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