Results at a Glance - Evaluation of the Public Health Agency of Canada's (PHAC) Public Health Workforce Development Activities


  • PHAC’s Public Health Workforce Development (PHWD) activities were largely developed to respond to workforce challenges highlighted as a result of the 2003 SARS crisis.
  • The evaluation assessed the relevance and performance of PHAC’s programs for training and supporting public health workers, from April 2010 to March 2015.


  • The responsibility for public health is shared by federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments.
  • Working with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders, PHAC provides training and support to public health professionals to develop and maintain their ability to respond to public health events.
  • PHAC PHWD activities include six programs:
    • Canadian Field Epidemiology Program: trains new public health professionals in applied epidemiology;
    • Canadian Public Health Service Program: temporarily places public health officers across the country;
    • Field Services Training and Response Training Unit: delivers field services training;
    • Public Health Scholarships and Capacity Building Initiative:Footnote 1 supported research and tool development;
    • Skills Enhancement for Public Health: online training; and
    • Public Health Workforce Unit: promotes the use of the Core Competencies for Public Health.

What the evaluation found

  • Shortages of workforce personnel with adequate knowledge and skills, continue to exist.   
  • The PHWD programs have helped to improve the knowledge and skills of public health professionals and students by providing formal, on-the-job and practical training opportunities and learning tools.
  • The majority of PHAC’s PHWD activities involve the direct delivery of programs and there is a desire by stakeholders for PHAC to enhance its efforts as a leader and coordinator.   
  • Stakeholders expressed concerns over a lack of coordinated approaches to public health workforce development, reinforcing an opportunity for PHAC to pay a more strategic role.

Recommendations and responses

  1. Re-assess the federal investment (in terms of level and scope), and determine the appropriate federal role (mix of activities) in building the public health workforce. Consideration should be given to the need to:

    • Convene stakeholders and enhance efforts as a leader/convener;
    • Streamline ‘like’ efforts underway within PHAC; and
    • Maximize program impact and efficiency by investing in activities with sustainable impacts.

    Response: PHAC will work with its partners to define the role it could play in the future.

  2. Following the first recommendation, develop a strategic plan to articulate and communicate the federal role related to public health workforce development.

    Response: PHAC will update the current strategic plan to include a description of the federal role in PHWD activities in the future.

  3. Establish formal governance to guide PHAC’s internal workforce development activities (that is, CBMI), and formalize a roll-out with clear timelines, objectives and expectations.

    Response: PHAC will put in place a system to manage the Competency Based Management Initiatives (CBMI). It will then set out the timelines, objectives and expectations for everyone involved.

About the evaluation

This evaluation was completed in January 2017 by the Office of Audit and Evaluation for the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada. The evaluation included a review of program documents and literature, interviews with people inside and outside of government, and a survey of public health professionals.

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