Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

A Strategic Approach to Workforce Development for Local Public Health

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Public Health

A Strategic Approach to Workforce Development for Local Public Health

Article excerpt

Peel Public Health (PPH) is a public health unit in Ontario that serves the 1.4 million residents of Peel Region in the areas of population health assessment, chronic disease and injury prevention, family health, environmental health, and communicable disease control. The 650-plus workforce is multidisciplinary and includes public health nurses, medical officers of health, public health inspectors, nutritionists, epidemiologists, research and policy analysts, health promoters, oral health practitioners and community development workers.

In 2009, Peel Public Health set a vision to transform the work of public health from efficient delivery of public health services as defined by the provincial mandate to the robust analysis of the health status of the local population and selection and implementation of programming to achieve best health outcomes. Ontario at the time had a public health mandate outlined in provincial legislation, and our health unit was trying to act on it comprehensively. However, we were under-resourced, largely because of rapid population growth, and we needed to set priorities based on the actual needs of the local population. We found ourselves without the right mix of skills to move from a general mandate to a Peel-specific set of priorities.

During PPH's 2009 strategic planning process, Workforce Development was identified as a priority to develop a workforce with the right knowledge, skills and role-mix for such a transformation. We envisioned practitioners who would use public health methods to identify the most pressing problems, analyze their "size and shape" and choose interventions to address them. This report describes the development of the workforce strategy and the resultant tools and processes.

PPH's 2009 strategic plan1 identified eight other priorities. Some, such as Evidence-Informed Decision Making (EIDM), have been described extensively elsewhere.2-4 Taken together, these priorities demanded that staff work in new ways, some of which were dramatically different for both front-line employees and the leadership team. Workforce Development became the framework for leading this change.

Investing in a large workforce transformation initiative was not a common choice for strategy, but PPH leaders were keenly aware of its potential benefits. They had seen it championed at the federal level in the wake of SARS and Walkerton5 with the development of the public health core competencies and were ready to engage with the transformative processes that would enhance capacity throughout the organization.


The use of a conceptual model

In 2009, little had been written about the elements of a workforce development system for local public health. The department commissioned a scan, review and synthesis of the literature6 of public health workforce development models. The authors noted the scarcity of published and grey literature and considered the results indicative of the cutting-edge nature of the work. Three key models were identified and promising elements were synthesized with input from PPH. A model was developed and refined (Figure 1). The model depicts three main system elements: Workforce Planning, Human Resource Management, and Capability Development. The system interacts with the education and training sector and the broader public health system.

In addition to the main components, the model includes elements that touch an employee across the lifespan of employment and even in some cases pre-employment, such as with student placement initiatives.

Use of the model has demonstrated several benefits:

* provides stakeholders or key informants with a quick visual guide to the conceptual framework for workforce development;

* provides context setting and makes it easier to speak about complex subject areas that have many interdependencies;

* supports leaders to act on strategic opportunities, without the risk of losing sight of elements that require intentional activity, such as succession planning. …

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