Meet Yukon’s human resources czar

As Yukon's Public Service Commissioner, Catharine Read wields considerable power. It's her job to ensure that the territory's civil service hums along smoothly.

As Yukon’s Public Service Commissioner, Catharine Read wields considerable power.

It’s her job to ensure that the territory’s civil service hums along smoothly. She polices the line that divides the public service from political machinations, referees employee disputes and interprets collective agreements, among other duties.

Read’s far-reaching powers are comparable to that of a deputy minister, with one important difference: deputy ministers may be fired at any moment by the premier. Read’s job is secure for a seven-year term.

She’s kept a low profile outside government since taking on the job last autumn. But, within government, she’s developed a plan to shake up the Dilbertesque world of cubicle dwellers.

That includes reorganizing the commission she oversees. Read wants it to “become more of a public service organization than an organization that quotes the rules all the time.”

That means offering constructive suggestions to departments that have run afoul of the rules.

But Read is aware that changing the way government works is an uphill battle. “Change makes a number of people here very nervous,” she said.

After all, her predecessor, Pat Dawes, enjoyed a 17-year reign. During that time, “it’s been a very stable organization.”

But Read sees big challenges ahead across government.

One is training better bosses. Read suspects many grievances could be avoided if first-time managers received more guidance on how to cool simmering conflicts.

That’s why the commission is developing an orientation program for new managers or supervisors.

Another looming concern is recruitment.

“We have an aging workforce,” said Read. “And, as the economy here heats up, we’re having more difficulty attracting certain skill sets,” such as financial and human resources staff.

As boomers age, retirement numbers will grow. More than 40 per cent of Yukon government workers are at least 50 years old. The average retirement age is 59.

Meanwhile, just five per cent of the Yukon government’s workforce is under 30 years old. The national average is eight per cent.

Hiring more young workers would help. That’s why Read has begun to track how many workers under 30 are being hired from outside government.

Another concern is the government’s obligation, under the Umbrella Final Agreement, to hire a proportional number of First Nation employees.

Currently, 13.3 per cent of the government’s workforce of nearly 5,000 employees identify themselves as First Nation. The target is 23 per cent.

Read insists it’s a “myth” that First Nation governments are hard-pressed to find enough skilled workers from their own communities to staff their self-government offices. “They have lots of people coming through post-secondary now,” she said.

Many government workers believe nepotism is alive and well, according to employment engagement survey results in recent years. But when Read audited a representative sample of hires, she found everything to be above board.

She suspects much discontent comes from the awarding of temporary assignments without competition. But, as of this past autumn, most of these assignments are advertised.

Read doesn’t see political interference with the bureaucracy as a problem. “This government actually does a very good job of respecting that line.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

Just Posted

Northwestel says it is investigating into the cause of the total communications blackout throughout the territory after a power failure in Whitehorse on Wednesday night.
Internet outage prompts criticism on Dempster fibre project delays

The Liberals responded that they have proceeded cautiously to avoid high costs.

A motorcycle with driver pulled over on the right side of the North Klondike Highway whose speed was locked in at 171 kilometres per hour. (Courtesy/Yukon RCMP)
Patrols of Yukon highways find poorly-secured loads, intoxicated drivers

The ongoing patrols which police call ‘Operation Cooridor’ is mainly focused on commercial vehicles.

Awaken Festival organizers Meredith Pritchard, Colin Wolf, Martin Nishikawa inside the Old Firehall in Whitehorse on May 11. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Performing arts fest plans to awaken artistic talent in Whitehorse and the rural North

‘A value of ours is to make theatre as accessible as possible.’

April Mikkelsen tosses a disc during a ladies only disc golf tournament at Solstice DiscGolfPark on May 8. John Tonin/Yukon News
Yukon sees its first-ever women’s disc golf tournament

The Professional Disc Golf Assocation had a global women’s event last weekend. In the Yukon, a women’s only tournament was held for the first time ever.

Dave Blottner, executive director at the Whitehorse Food Bank, said the food bank upped its services because of the pandemic. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Food Bank sees Yukoners’ generosity firsthand

“Businesses didn’t know if they could stay open but they were calling us to make sure we were able to stay open.”

More than 25,000 people have received the firsdt dose of the vaccine, according to the Yukon government. (Black Press file)
Yukon has now vaccinated 76 per cent of eligible adults

The territory has surpassed its goal of 75 per cent as a first step toward ‘herd immunity’

A prescribed burn is seen from the lookout at Range Road and Whistle Bend Way in Whitehorse May 12. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Editorial: Are you ready for a forest fire?

Citizens for a Firesmart Whitehorse have listed some steps for Yukoners to boost safety and awareness

Caribou pass through the Dempster Highway area in their annual migration. A recent decision by the privacy commissioner has recommended the release of some caribou collar re-location data. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News)
Privacy commissioner recommends release of caribou location data

Department of Environment says consultation with its partners needed before it will consider release

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Family pleased youth will be able to get Pfizer vaccine

Angela Drainville, mother of two, is anxious for a rollout plan to come forward

Safe at home office in Whitehorse on May 10, 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News)
Federal government provides $1.6 million for Yukon anti-homelessness work

Projects including five mobile homes for small communities received funding.

Drilling at Northern Tiger’s 3Ace gold project in 2011. Randi Newton argues that mining in the territory can be reshaped. (Yukon government/file)
Editorial: There’s momentum for mining reform

CPAWS’ Randi Newton argues that the territory’s mining legislations need a substantial overhaul

At its May 10 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the subdivision for the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s business park planned in Marwell. (Submitted)
KDFN business park subdivision approved

Will mean more commercial industrial land available in Whitehorse

Most Read