Canada's Free Agents/FAQ

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Canada's Free Agents Logo: a black maple leaf with the right lobe being shaped as a puzzle piece.

Canada's Free Agents

Frequently Asked Questions - Frequently Asked Questions…by people interested in becoming Free Agents

  • What is Canada's Free Agents?
  • How do Free Agents choose projects?
  • What types of work do Free Agents do?
  • How are the Free Agents managed?
  • What are the benefits of being a Free Agent?
  • What challenges might Free Agents face?
  • Who can apply to become a Free Agent?
  • How are the Free Agent applicants assessed?
  • What happens if I’m accepted?
  • OK, I’m sold! How do I apply?

What is Canada's Free Agents?

Canada’s Free Agents is a new model for talent mobility that creates space for public servants to take charge of their career. Designed after Deloitte’s “GovCloud” model this program started as a pilot to test mobility and innovation in the federal Public Service. Free Agents are able to:

  • Select their own projects and determine their own career paths;
  • Undertake projects where understanding and applying innovation processes is encouraged;
  • Receive ongoing learning and professional development opportunities; and
  • Have a forum for connecting and collaborating with other Free Agents -- we are a support network, which bolsters our ability to deliver.

Since the Free Agent pilot program began in May 2016 at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), it has expanded to include two more Home Departments - Transport Canada (TC) in 2017, and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) in 2018. A fourth department – Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) – is expected to begin onboarding Free Agents in 2020. As of November 2019, there are 84 Free Agents: most are located in the National Capital Region and some are based in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon.

How do Free Agents choose projects?

Typically, Free Agents choose their projects using the following ways: 1. From a pool of project proposals from interested hiring managers. Free Agents review the postings, and if interested, contact the managers to further explore the opportunities to determine whether that assignment suits their skill set, career goals and/or interests. 2. Free Agents also gauge interest – or receive offers – from their professional networks that position them to pursue opportunities in the areas of their choosing.

What types of work do Free Agents do?

Free Agents work on short-term assignments that vary in length and location (just about any federal department or agency, anywhere in Canada or abroad). The Free Agent pilot is made up of public servants from a range of:

  • Classifications (some examples, but not limited to)
    • Economics and Social Science Services (EC),
    • Information Services (IS),
    • Administrative Services (AS),
    • Physical Sciences (PC),
    • Computer Systems (CS),
    • Commerce (CO),
    • Personnel Administration (PE),
    • Programme Administration (PM), and
    • Financial Management (FI),
  • Language profiles,
  • Locations, and
  • Backgrounds.

Examples of current and previous assignments include:

  • Privy Council Office - Prime Minister’s Youth Secretariat
  • Policy Horizons - Foresight
  • Innovative Solutions Canada (ISED) - Starting the Innovation Lab
  • Policy Community Partnership Office - Creating the Policy Community
  • Public Safety - Engagements to examine a handgun ban
  • Natural Resources Canada - Stakeholder Engagement
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada - Carbon Tax
  • Transport Canada - Artificial Intelligence pilot

Our Free Agents are open when it comes to sharing their experiences. You can learn by:

How are the Free Agents managed?

Free Agents have a Talent Manager and a Host Manager. In each Home Department (which is where the Free Agent is housed), the Talent Manager coaches and supports Free Agents as they find their assignments and during the entire project, tracks their performance, and manages human resources needs. Free Agents meet regularly with their Talent Manager and connect with their Free Agents colleagues for check-ins and professional development. These activities help the Talent Manager analyze the pilot program’s success and advise senior management on the program's results.

For each assignment the Free Agent accepts, there is a Host Manager who is responsible for managing the day-to-day work of the Free Agent on assignment, and providing feedback to the Talent Manager about the Free Agent’s performance and how the assignment is going.

What are the benefits of being a Free Agent?

There are a number of benefits in being a Free Agent, including...

  • the opportunity to direct your career and to work on projects that you are passionate about;
  • access to new learning opportunities and projects that stretch you and provide growth potential;
  • successful applicants are deployed at-level into a position within their Home Department (NRCan, TC, TBS) and in some cases, may act above their substantive while on assignment;
  • Free Agents may be eligible for promotional consideration, in an effort to recognize and support career growth, if certain conditions are met; and
  • access to a dynamic and diverse community with a broad skill set to support you, bounce ideas off and consult with when unique challenges arise in your assignment or work environment.


What challenges might Free Agents face?

We’re human – so we face the same issues as most public servants; but, because of our autonomy of work and mobility, there can be some unique challenges.

For example:

  • Balancing being part of two teams (Free Agents are part of the team where they are working, and also attend periodic “check-ins” and professional development events with the program, as well as participating in a virtual Free Agent workspace);
  • Frequently changing work environments and teams can mean steep learning curves that are demanding, challenging and, at times, emotionally exhausting;
  • Finding their own assignments requires work, and can be challenging in regions outside of the NCR; while the Talent Managers will lend a hand, it is ultimately up to the Free Agent to find their assignment; and
  • Attitudes or practices within workplaces or teams that are not ready for new approaches the Free Agent may want to introduce, despite evidence indicating their value.

Who can apply to become a Free Agent?

All indeterminate federal public servants in the federal public service below the EX level who can be deployed* are eligible to apply to become Free Agents. This includes public servants living in the regions and abroad.

*Please ensure that your substantive indeterminate position resides in a federal organization from which you are deployable to the core public administration (e.g., NRCan, TBS, TC). It is your responsibility to verify whether you’re “deployable” by checking on the Public Service Commission website.

How are the Free Agent applicants assessed?

Our process isn’t as magical as the sorting hat from Harry Potter, or as rigorous as 007’s secret service requirements; however, we do veer from the typical government path. In collaboration with the innovation community across the Public Service, the program developed a list of key attributes and skills that Free Agents should possess. The selection process is designed to assess the following attributes that we believe are necessary to be successful as a Free Agent:

  • Courage
  • Passion
  • Humility
  • Empathy
  • Team Orientedness
  • Creativity
  • Resilience
  • Outcomes-focused
  • Curiosity
  • Reflectiveness
  • Action Orientedness
  • Persuasiveness
  • Problem-solving
  • Quick-Learning

The screening/hiring process is done in four phases:

  • Successful online application (also used to assess writing skills).
  • Interviews with a small panel of assessors.
  • Other screening mechanisms may be tested from time to time.
  • Reference checks.

As part of the online application, candidates are asked to identify how they currently demonstrate proficiency in these attributes and how they have done so in the past professionally, and provide supporting documents. The online application is also used to assess the candidate’s ability to write. While we will ask for your references directly in your application, they will only be contacted if you are successful at the interview stage.

Candidates selected for the next phase will then be invited to attend interviews (via teleconference for those recruitment campaigns where we have candidates outside the NCR), where they will be evaluated by a small panel of assessors for the attributes listed above.

Successful candidates may also be tested on their ability to think and behave in ways that will allow them to be successful in this new model of working. This aims to give candidates an opportunity to show their creativity, leadership, resilience, passion and teamwork in a realistic setting.

We will also be checking your references.

We practice an agile approach with our program. We adjust our selection process slightly each time we do an intake, based on feedback from facilitators and candidates, and to reflect other insights we have gained through running the Free Agent program.

What happens if I’m accepted?

Look, we’re not ones to tell you what to do because you’re ‘Free,’ but we do recommend a little celebrating! This program attracts a lot of amazing talent, so if you make it through Congrats!

Next, let’s get to business:

If you are accepted into the program, you are offered a conditional, at level, deployment to one of our Home Departments (currently NRCan, TBS, TC, ISED).

You officially become a Free Agent upon securing your first assignment. Here is an example of how things unfold:

You currently work for the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) as an indeterminate PM-05 and have applied to become a Free Agent. You were successful, and now you must find your first assignment before you leave the CGC and deploy to NRCan. After searching for a week or two, you have found an assignment with the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) and have agreed on your start date. You can now give notice to the CGC that you will be leaving, and deploy to NRCan on the agreed date with your first assignment at the PMPRB. NRCan will provide you with a letter of offer (PM-05 level or equivalent) to become a Free Agent within that Home Department. You sign the letter of offer (congrats!) and begin as a Free Agent and with the PMPRB on the same day.

As a Free Agent, you remain an indeterminate employee of your Home Department as long as they participate in the program (NRCan, TC, TBS, ISED), regardless of the department or agency where you work on assignment.

Some free agents can take assignments that include acting above their substantive level, assuming you meet the position’s merit criteria.

OK, I’m sold! How do I apply?

A targeted recruitment campaign will run in November 2019, and a broader campaign is expected in Winter 2020. Application processes are advertised on the Canada's Free Agents GCcollab page and through our Twitter account.

The application process is taking place NOW! from November 8 to 20, 2019.

Join the Free Agent group on GCcollab to make sure you don’t miss it! Please ensure that you “join” the group to so that all information in visible and available to you.