Recruitment & Retention into Designated Bilingual Positions - a Leading Practice

Southern Health-Santé Sud recently received Leading Practice recognition from the Health Standards Organization (HSO) for its approach regarding recruitment & retention into Designated Bilingual Positions – a Standardized, Integrated and Collaborative Approach. A Leading Practice is a practice carried out by a health and/or social service organization that has demonstrated a positive change, is people-centred, safe and efficient. HSO maintains a Leading Practices Library as knowledge-sharing hub of innovative practices that have been identified through a rigorous evaluation process. It is available to the public, policy makers and organizations who are seeking ways to improve the quality of health services for all.

Below is the 'story behind the story' regarding recruitment & retention into Designated Bilingual Positions in Southern Health-Santé Sud …


Sophie waits impatiently by the phone, waiting to hear from Southern Health-Santé Sud regarding a designated bilingual position she applied for. The interview had gone very well, but she is unsure of how she did on the French Language Assessment portion of the interview. While she had attended a French immersion school right through to Grade 8, Sophie knew she was rusty and would have liked to do better.

The phone rings. Sophie takes a breath, answers the phone and learns that she is the successful applicant! She is offered the position with condition that she becomes more proficient in French. At first, Sophie is a little hesitant to know what that means but quickly learns that she will be supported in her learning journey where she will have access to subsidized French language courses and her employer will help her to create a self-development plan to reach the desired proficiency goal.

Integrated Processes are Key
Southern Health-Santé Sud covers over 27 025 km2 with scattered clusters of areas with higher francophone concentration. The most effective and efficient means for individuals to receive services in both official languages in these areas is through the recruitment and selection of qualified applicants into designated bilingual positions. Southern Health-Santé Sud has over 600 Designated Bilingual Positions (DBPs).

An integrated approach to recruitment into DBPs is key to achieving consistent processes. Recruitment and selection into designated positions is implemented as outlined within the region’s Recruitment & Selection Procedures and collective agreements. Within these hiring processes are ‘checkpoints’, integrating steps specific to recruitment and hiring into DBPs. In addition to these ‘checkpoints’, hiring managers are very intentful in networking to ‘shake the bushes’ so to speak – this in efforts to find bilingual applicants. For example, Southern Health-Santé Sud program directors ongoingly liaise with community site directors (located in areas with higher francophone concentration), generating engagement opportunities with community stakeholders. This approach has proven to create awareness opportunities, many times resulting in successful recruitment outcomes.

Once applications are received, the required qualification of proficiency of both official languages is reviewed within the application screening process. As part of the interview process into DBPs, proficiency is determined by administering the French Language Assessment, conducted by a person who is proficient in French as identified within a list of approved assessors.

To maintain service delivery, if no candidates meet the bilingual qualification, candidates meeting all other qualifications may be considered for a position. Prior to doing so and to ensure that all attempts are made to fill a DPB with a bilingual incumbent, a checklist is filled by the hiring manager and submitted to the FLS Unit to facilitate an opportunity to identify different approaches to fill positions and to engage in determining further potential courses of action. Decisions are made collaboratively with ‘Above All: Common Sense’, acknowledging that sometimes DPBs must be filled with candidates who do not meet the bilingual qualification – this to meet the region’s requirements of service delivery.

Such as was the case for Sophie and with a focus to build capacity, individuals not meeting the required language proficiency level and hired with conditions of employment are provided the appropriate letter of offer which clearly states the conditions. As a means to meet these conditions, employees are provided opportunities for French language training to achieve progressive improvement, complete a self-development plan with the support of their supervisor and are evaluated regularly including within the performance appraisal process.

Monitoring & Reporting – checks & balances
Throughout many stages of the hiring process into DBPs, various checkpoints trigger data entry into the region’s centralized payroll system. These entries generate bi-weekly reports regarding activity in DBPs. Payroll systems help to keep track of all DBPs, is a repository for all French language assessments and most importantly, provides a dashboard of data to help understand the status of how many DPBs are filled by designated incumbents. Reports are generated and shared with various sites, programs and services, providing a valuable source of information to help guide the development of strategies. This dashboard and associated strategies are shared and reviewed annually by the Southern Health-Santé Sud Board of Directors as well as with community stakeholders. This well-oiled machine complete with integrated processes, tracking mechanisms and reporting is made possible with cross collaboration between hiring managers, French language services, human resources and payroll and, is a first in the province.

Building Capacity
Today, Sophie has been in her position for over five years. Having worked very hard to improve her proficiency in French through commitment to her self-development plan, courses and through immersion in a designated site, she now meets the desired proficiency goal. From the organizational standpoint, this lens of building capacity has been very serving in meeting the region’s legislated mandate. Currently almost 60% of the 600+ positions are filled by bilingual incumbents; additionally, there is bilingual capacity beyond the designated bilingual positions which the region is working to capture. 

At the end of the day, we know that successful outcomes hinge on collaborative efforts. In Southern Health-Santé Sud, French Language Services is a shared responsibility which weaves across the region as a whole. While building on our past progress, the region is committed to continue discovering new possibilities related to meeting its French Language Services legislated mandate.

It starts with Active Offer in greeting our clients with ‘Hello-Bonjour' and a smile: it’s that easy!