September 4, 2018
During the past year, the Official Languages (OL) Committee of the the National Joint Council (NJC) has developed a comprehensive assessment of the current state of affairs regarding OL in the Public Service. The OL Committee was directed to conduct an analysis and provide a report with respect to key questions concerning language training, access to training and language testing. It was requested that recommendations in the report should identify gaps that exist and practices that should continue and be promoted. It is in this spirit of employer and union collaboration that the OL Committee presents this report, which is the result of their work. This report includes data provided through consultations with stakeholders in OL and recent questionnaires completed by the OL Community of practice, as well as members of unions. These data, although relevant are not the result of scientific surveys, but rather serve to observe general trends in the evolution of OL in the Public Service.
Around the same time, the Clerk of the Privy Council asked Canadian Heritage and the Privy Council Office to lead a working group on the language of work. They were asked to consult public servants across Canada, analyze trends, results and best practices, highlight where improvements were needed and put forward recommendations that could lead to significant changes in the government’s approach to OL in the workplace. The result of this consultation was the Borbey-Mendelsohn report, titled The Next Level.
While the work conducted by both entities addressed similar issues, it was felt that the work of the NJC OL Committee should continue as we were the only group conducting the research within a joint labour-management framework.
This report of the OL Committee of the NJC comes at a time when OL seems to generate a general interest. The OL Committee is therefore proud to offer a timely and unique collaborative perspective on the state of OL in the Public Service.
The OL Committee engaged and consulted with several stakeholders and groups of interest to gather information regarding the different roles they played in promoting, evaluating and monitoring OL in the workplace. These included:
- OL Center of Excellence – Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO)
- OL Champions Network
- Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL)
- OL functional Community of Practice
- Canadian Heritage
- Interdepartmental working group on language training
In addition, in order to ensure that public servants were provided with an opportunity to share their views and concerns, a questionnaire was developed and was distributed by three bargaining agents to their membership at large – the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of the Public Service. Over 9000 unionized employees responded to the questionnaire, which was designed to address specific issues regarding access to language training, use of and maintenance of second language capabilities and language testing. The high rate of participation/response indicates that it seems an issue of importance and concern to the average public servant.
Section I - Evaluate and report on the current state of affairs regarding OL in the Public Service
Information was gathered from the meetings with stakeholders as well as the results of the various surveys. In order to align with the Borbey-Mendelsohn (The Next Level), we present our findings and subsequent recommendations in line with the five priorities that were identified.
While it has been understood and accepted that leaders are a critical component in establishing a culture of linguistic duality and compliance, this role is not accepted universally among public service leaders. Some departments have strong leadership in this area and the results of their efforts show, while others view linguistic duality as more of a compliance issue and will take little initiative. Not all of the departments do allocate the resources necessary for the maintenance and promotion of it. Further, the survey results show that a number of employees feel deserted by the government where support for its employees in the acquisition, use and maintenance of the second language is concerned.
Findings and Recommendations:
- Accountability and consequences: While the Committee agrees that TBS and federal institutions should take steps to increase accountability of OL stakeholders, it is of the view that, in spite of the existence of several entities mandated to support OL priorities and compliance (the champion’s network, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, the TBS Center of Excellence among others), it seems that most of them have no real authority to affect government-wide change or impose consequences on departmental senior leadership when OL related obligations are not met. It is therefore recommended that a central authority be identified for the government-wide measurement and monitoring of OL promotion and compliance and that they be provided with the requisite authority and tools to impose consequences where these obligations are not met.
- Performance: The Committee feels that although departments may include OL obligations and priorities in Performance Agreements for executives, these do not necessarily translate into better results as this obligation is often not measured and is not reflected in the final ratings/performance pay for public service leaders. As such, we strongly support that OL obligations be a component of EX performance agreements, and that their results in meeting these obligations negatively/positively impact the determination of ratings and/or performance pay for members of the executive cadre.
- Culture: Each member of the executive/senior leader cadre should be a champion for linguistic duality and lead the culture change to make this happen. OL should from part of all talent management practices, from hiring to development and promotion. The importance of linguistic duality should form part of the orientation for new executives and should be repeated as they continue their progress through the ranks. In addition, executives and leaders must allocate the necessary resources for ongoing training and development in these areas and show clear support for their employee’s second language development as part of their talent/learning management plan.
As we met with stakeholders and asked them to explain their mandate and structure, it became clear that the OL governance framework is complex and burdensome with not always clear areas of accountability. There are far too many players and significant overlap in mandates and purposes. These entities often work at cross-purposes and there is a lack of central guidance and quality control in areas such as language training.
Findings and recommendations:
- Language requirements: while the modernization of the language qualification standards would certainly be welcome, the Committee has concerns regarding the implementation of a blanket increase to the language profile for all supervisory positions to CBC. Although the Committee certainly agrees that supervisory positions should have adequate language capacity, it wants to ensure that this increase in level does not result in an increased barrier to promotion for employees. For example, there is a distinction between basic supervisory functions (such as staff scheduling) and more complex management roles (like conducting disciplinary meetings) where the communication need is quite different. In order to ensure fair and successful application of this new standard, significant investments in language training for employees must form part of this recommendation.
- Maintenance: The Committee agrees that maintenance of second language skills is important, however, the recommendation in the report does not address how this could be achieved. Constant and supported use of both languages in the workplace (particularly at senior levels and in meetings) as well as concrete programs designed to encourage and reward the use of both languages are essential. In addition, employees should be required to meet the language requirement of their positions on an ongoing basis, not only every five years, or when they change jobs.
- Expedited language assessment: the Committee encourages the Public Service Commission to demonstrate flexibility and innovation in finding ways to expedite the assessment process, as this is seen as a barrier to progressing and developing language skills. External (contract) evaluators, increased use of trained departmental evaluators and other mechanisms should be considered.
Culture continues to be the dominant factor in the use and promotion of both OL in the public service workplaces. The emphasis on meeting language requirements during the recruitment and hiring stage is commendable and will certainly increase the linguistic duality of the workplace. However, it is the Committee’s view that while there are many measures of linguistic capacity before and during the time of hire, that there is a lack of support once employees are brought on board. There needs to be more support for the daily use of both languages in the workplace (for example allowing/encouraging employees to prepare written documents in the language of their choice) if we are to effect real culture change.
Responses from our questionnaire confirm The Next Level’s report in that while some employees have found support with their language training, this support is not consistent across departments and there is still a large dissatisfaction (or lack of awareness) of language training opportunities offered to them. In addition, while we applaud the report’s view that “providing access to effective language training will be critical to increasing the use of both official languages”, we know that this requires resources, and that at this time the competition for these resources is stiff, with OL considerations typically falling far behind operational needs.
Findings and recommendations:
- Bilingualism bonus: It has been this Committee’s position for some time that the policy on Bilingualism Bonus required modernization and review and should be included in the cyclical review of NJC policies. This being said, however, we stress that all decisions regarding the existence, amount and application of the bonus should result from meaningful consultation and/or negotiation between the parties. We do understand, however, that this bonus represents significant funding and would suggest that this funding be co-managed by the Employer Side and Bargaining Agent Side and allocated to OL priorities as determined by these parties.
- Training: While the Committee is in agreement with the recommendations made in The Next Level regarding training, we feel that there remains a gap with regards to the control of quality and access to language-training government-wide. As mentioned earlier, senior leadership and the allocation of resources greatly influences the amount and caliber of language training provided by different departments, resulting in haves and have-nots in terms of access to training. As such we encourage a stronger role for the Canada School of Public Service to play overseeing the provision and quality control of language training for all departments.
The Committee did not look into the issue of tools and technology regarding language training, therefore has nothing to add to the recommendations made in The Next Level.
Additional comments from the Committee on the current state of affairs regarding OL in the Public Service
The following are conclusions and recommendations from the Committee that are not necessarily in response to those contained in The Next Level report.
Review the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages
As mentioned earlier, there is no central authority tasked with ensuring compliance with OL policy and legislation. Although OCOL can make recommendations, it does not have the power to impose sanctions or consequences if those recommendations are not followed. Their mandate and powers could be reviewed to determine if they should have more power/authority in OL matters.
Clarify governance, roles and mandates of different entities
The complexity of the governance framework for OL means that employees, managers, and bargaining agents are not clear on accountabilities, roles and mandates of the different stakeholders. There is overlap and duplication of work, and most of these entities only have the power to consult, review and recommend, but not the power to execute. The framework must be reviewed and simplified, with fewer players, and clearer lines of responsibility.
Change Leadership from the top
Senior Public Service leaders will have to lead the change in culture by showing personal and professional commitment to the promotion and use of both languages in the workplace, and should be held accountable for the results.
Section II - Report on key questions concerning language training
The Committee was asked to identify issues and best practices with regards to three elements:
- Access to Training
- Maintenance of language; and
- Availability of testing.
The following observations are based on the results of the survey conducted among the community of practice for OL (departmental functional OL staff).
a. Access to training
Since the decentralization of language training from the Canada School of Public Service to departments, there is an overall view that the caliber and quality of language training has suffered. Language training should be an integral part of professional/career development.
Service providers, even those on Standing Offers, have difficulty recruiting and retaining adequate teaching resources given the working conditions offered since the privatization of the service. The CSPS can no longer ensure that they are well supervised. The fact that there is no longer any organization responsible for quality assurance brings additional workload for which many departments do not have the resources or the expertise.
Among the comments made are:
- The quality of the private teachers and schools fluctuates and there is constant turnover of teaching staff
- The curriculum for each school is different and often is not in line with the federal assessment criteria
- In some areas and regions, finding qualified language schools can be difficult
- Some offer only one type of program and are not be equipped to provide customized or one-on-one training
- Because they are external providers, they are not always familiar with the public service language requirements and tools
- There is a lack of language maintenance programs offered by the schools
Best practices identified:
- Online practice/self-assessment tools; electronic testing (faster-more efficient); feedback to candidates when requested
- Ensure employees are provided with time for language training
- Include language training in individual learning plans
- Maintain the tools found in the Campus Direct learners' packages.
- Vet the teaching resources and educational advisers who work with learners to ensure they have a minimum of education and relevant work experience.
- Standing offers from Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) should be maintained.
b. Maintenance of second language
As stated earlier, most resources are allocated to language training to meet requirements, or at time of hire, however, a gap has been identified in the maintenance of acquired language skills.
- There are insufficient resources to offer in-house maintenance programs
- Language training for career development is not often offered
- Workplace culture does not always promote the daily use of both languages (English is still viewed as the primary language of work, even for Francophones)
Best practices that were identified:
- Continue to promote and encourage bilingual meetings
- Oral maintenance and grammar refresher courses
- Departmental Second Language days (when employees are encouraged to use their second language)
- Reimbursement of language courses taken at night or on week-ends
- Lunch and learn and other concrete learning and development opportunities
- Linguistic duality day and promotional activities
- Second language “buddies” or “ambassadors”
c. Language testing
The OL community of practice indicated that testing continues to suffer from delays, particularly in reference to oral testing. The Public Service Commission (PSC) has a limited capacity to treat the volume of oral proficiency tests, particularly when these are not part of a hiring process. As part of its new Direction in Staffing, it is expected that the PSC will show more flexibility in assessments and testing, and we encourage them to do so. In addition to long wait times, access to regional test offices was also flagged as a concern.
- Testing is not perceived to be relevant to everyday context or tasks
- There seems to be a disconnect between language training and the Public Service Commission's evaluations, especially in oral form.
- No feedback is provided for written tests, and feedback on oral test is vague and doesn’t help employees address problem areas
Best practices that were identified:
- Train in-house evaluators for oral assessments
- Continue to ensure as much can be done on-line as possible
- Allow employees to request their language test directly, and send them the results
- Maintain the on-line courses for the preparation of the oral competency test on the CSPS site
The following observations are based on the results of the questionnaires completed by employees/members of the bargaining agents (PSAC, PIPSC and CAPE).
The high rate of participation indicates an interest in the employee community in this subject. Employees not only took the time to respond to the multiple choice responses, but also added a great deal of individual comments. Also of interest is the fact that 20% of francophone employees chose to answer in English (even though the questionnaire was available in both languages); which may also be a sign that workplace culture leans towards the use of English as the language of work. The exception to this is CAPE, which had the highest number of francophone respondents. It is expected that this is because of the high concentration of interpreters, translators and terminologists in that bargaining agent.
Changing language demographics and diversity
Any conversation on language training and skills should begin with a recognition of the changing landscape and increasing diversity in terms of language demographics. The fact that respondents to the questionnaire identified over 40 different languages as their first spoken language means that in more and more situations, employees are not only having to learn a second language, but often a third. This reality must be taken into consideration in the development of OL policies and programs and they should be integrated with and aligned to diversity and inclusiveness priorities. In addition, this demonstrates an even more pressing need for language training for employees.
Awareness of available training and testing programs and policies
One of the conclusions we can draw from the responses is that employees are not necessarily aware of the OL training, testing and maintenance programs available to them. For example, when asked who can access language training in their department, 44% of employees did not know. Employees do not know where to go to get information, and who provides the training (departmental OL section or training section, CSPS, etc.).
In addition, while 39% of employees feel that they can request language testing, 40% do not know if they could or how to go about it.
This lack of knowledge and understanding creates a perception of unfairness and favoritism in the allocation of resources and granting of language training. Comments in the questionnaires show significant frustration at the perception that managers and executives get preferential treatment when it comes to language training. Better promotion and education of the second language learning and development opportunities for staff would help alleviate some of these misperceptions. Manager should also be encouraged to discuss and include OL training as part of an employee’s learning plan.
Position language requirements
When asked who should determine the language requirements for their position, employees are fairly divided between HR, their immediate supervisor and their manager/director.
More importantly, 26% of the respondents do not feel that the language profile assigned to their position represents the actual need for and use of a second language. Given that it is the government’s plan to establish language profiles across large groups and categories of employees (e.g. supervisors), this number would certainly rise, as individual position needs may no longer determine language profiles.
Gaps as identified by employees
The results suggest that the majority of respondents believe that the gaps in language training are lack of access and insufficient budget. This is in line with what we heard from the OL community of practice.
Other gaps included a perceived lack of quality control over language training, sufficient time off to attend meaningful language training, and management support of language training for career development purposes.
The NJC OL Committee played an active role in identifying key questions concerning the current state of affairs regarding OL in the Public service with consultations with key stakeholders and with online surveys. This report highlights where improvement can be made, highlighting that cultural change is essential to progress in terms of OL. There is no doubt that the OL approach should be modernized, but those changes must be supported by the right resources and clear structures.
This Committee met with many stakeholders, over several months to discuss mandates, OL challenges and policies and it was obvious that all these stakeholders take their roles seriously and are committed to the promotion of linguistic duality in the Public Service. However, when we heard from the users – the OL community of practice and employees – it became clear that there is a disconnect between what the government hopes to achieve and actual results on the ground.
Over half of the employees who responded to the questionnaire (56%) felt that language requirements were a barrier for them in terms not only of career advancement, but retention and engagement as well. This level of dissatisfaction, lack of understanding and skepticism among employees concerning OL must be addressed if any changes to programs or policies are to succeed.
Transparency, education and consistency of application are key elements that are missing in today’s OL framework. It is this Committee’s view that the greater public service, in spite of its many policies, tools and legislation, needs to establish a cohesive, organization-wide approach to the promotion, use, training and maintenance of OL in the workplace and that they need to allocate additional resources to achieve their goals.
The NJC OL Committee invites the OL Community to create links and work collaboratively with the Committee in order to implement recommendations and seek a better future for OL.