Becker Wild & guest writer Angela McKenna ♦ August 25/19

You asked, so we answered:

​Ok. Before you write me to say that you’re glad the OPP has removed the requirement to have an ATS certificate, just hear me out.  As a hopeful police candidate, removal of the ATS certification from any application process significantly impacts your chances of getting hired and ultimately places you at a disadvantage.  

Why ATS got dumped

​ATS Testing Inc. is the only company licensed by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) to conduct the required testing for police candidates.  They deliver testing in various locations province, but only travel as far North as Thunder Bay.  They deliver testing there two times a year.  As a result, this creates a real challenge for candidates in Northern Ontario and certainly increases costs associated with obtaining certification.  Moreover, it means northern residents incur regularly high costs in order to maintain certification

So why does this matter?

map of ATS testing locations in Ontario

The OPP are responsible for policing throughout Ontario and have 72 detachments spread out over the province.  Additionally, the OPP assist many First Nations Police Services with hiring and training needs.

The OPP challenge has been and always will be finding new officers to work in remote locations.  In turn, the people most likely to do so are often from those communities themselves. The problem that persists: how do these northern candidates complete the required testing to get hired in the first place?

Someone from Fort Severn must fly hours South to Thunder Bay, twice a year just so they can apply (remember the PREP is only valid for 6 months)

Here’s the breakdown:

Air flight (round trip) $1,233.40
Hotel – Best Western in Thunder Bay (one night) $114
ATS Testing – Initial Testing ​$330.53 (Prep Re-Test=$79.42)
Total investment for one trip – Initial Testing ​$1,677.93 +meals

Each time they need to renew their PREP test they still incur the BASE COST above.

It’s no surprise that the OPP removed the ATS testing from their process to help meet a real challenge they face and help those from Northern communities apply.  But understand this; they did NOT lower their standards.  The OPP still require testing to be completed, but now they will conduct the testing themselves (we call this “In-House Testing”).

This situation begs the question: If the OPP dumped ATS, then why don’t all services?  Otherwise…well hiring is no longer “standardized”.  So, no more ATS Certification?…

I have no doubt that the OPP are suffering the same fate as all other police services in Ontario: a lack of qualified, & suitable applicants.  I will touch on the current recruiting challenges in a future article but for now, I will say all police agencies are struggling to meet hiring needs for the future.

The Impact of the Application “Boom”

So recruiting challenges aside, one can assume that with the ATS requirement removed, the OPP will experience a “boom” in applications.  What’s the impact of that?  Now your application sits among a huge pile of applications waiting to be processed.  We all know many candidates get “weeded out” during the ATS process itself and so previously, their application never even landed in the pile.  Now it will take even longer to make it into the OPP process.  

​Are Human resources prepared to deal with this increase in applications? That is another side to this process change discussed later.

Another thing to think about is what if you are not successful with OPP?  In order to continue applying for a career in policing you will need to complete the ATS testing; only now you have been delayed and are behind everyone else trying to catch-up. 

ATS: The one stop ticket

Although we all despise testing, the reality is ATS testing has saved applicants time and energy.  Before ATS was established, each police service used the “In-House Testing” model.  Ponder this scenario below for comparison:

ATS Drivers licence card

​Imagine for a moment you were about to leave with your family on a cross Canada trip.  You had the option to get your driver’s licence once and travel freely around the country driving without limits.  Or take the same trip, but now you need to stop at each Provincial border and get a new license to continue your journey.    Quite simply, the second option doesn’t make sense and would deter people from travelling at all!

ATS provides you a driver’s license allowing you to connect with as many police services as you like and you only need to pass one certification.  If testing requirements returned to “In-House testing” candidates will likely only have time and interest to apply to a select few services. Candidates would need to re-attend each service each time they are required to re-test and may eventually be deterred altogether resulting in a candidate “drought”.  
Some other questions start to arise: ​
pie chart with text regarding testing for the OACP

​The ATS staff members are certified, established and the testing is connected to bona fide occupational requirements. This allows you to complete one set of testing requirements and then focus on interviews rather than the laborious “In-House testing” model. ATS certification streamlines the process, ensures a standardized and professionally qualified approach to candidate selection.

What Can Police Services Learn from the OPP Mistake

For this next section I will be addressing Police Services directly, so if you’re not part of a policing organization there is no need to read any further… but I know you will anyhow right 🙂
1. Applicants need an application process they know and understand
  • ATS is well established, rigorously standardized and tied to bona fide occupational requirements, not the whim of an officer at a random police service
  • An application process that is significantly different from other police services segregates that service from ripe applicants.  It forces applicants to choose early in the process divides where they will apply and thereby divides the applicant pool.  If a process seems harder or unknown, applicants will simply avoid it.  Therefore, as a service, your process should be easy to navigate, be transparent so applicants know what to expect and coincide with other services.  If your process is different from other police services, the perception is that your process has biases.  Perception matters.

2. Organizational Risk Management 
Impact of a shortened Process: One Interview

  • If a police service adopts a new application process and delivers a shortened process, there is a lot riding on one interview
  • As an applicant, I would feel like the service didn’t get a good picture of what I can offer them
  • As an organization, one exposure through a single interview places your service (and community) at high, unnecessary risk- how do you know you’re hiring a good candidate?
  • Recruitment is a 30 year, over $3,000,000 long-term investment. The community expects the police to take that seriously
  • If this were your own money wouldn’t you expect several meetings with an investment advisor to fully understand the investment your making?
  •  Shortening your process is at the same time increasing police service risk and liability. A hasty hire is a bad investment.

Beyond the Interview Stages

  • if the ATS requirement is removed from your service you have two options: No testing or In-House testing

​1. No testing Required:

  • This shows lowered expectations
  • What some don’t realize is that policing is increasingly administrative in nature.  The ATS math and problem-solving components measure analytical thinking, logical conclusions, methodological ability and your simply ability to articulate a situation well – all key components in an officers ability to successfully prosecute cases and process data during investigations
  • One may mistakenly think you’re removing a barrier by dropping  ATS testing, but in reality you tell the community that the professional level of service is dropping, that problem solving is less important than it was and that police service’s of tomorrow will be less adapt at helping the community than before. If we expect less, we get less 

2. In-House Testing:
i.Test Delivery Logistics

  • Let’s go back to the spider web I started before:
    • Who will create the written testing components to ensure they are defensible, testing toward bona fide occupational requirements and that the questions are worded correctly – a police officer or a professional who does this for a living?
    • Who will decide which physical test is relevant to policing?  Is the PIN test?  – Again will an officer decide this crucial thing or a professional in that industry? When looking closer one may find the PIN is simply an average fitness measuring stick, not police specific
    • So who will come up with all of the “paperwork” required to get your own testing components up and running…
  • Inevitably this spawns the old “hire your buddy” system when services fail to look beyond themselves for legitimate HR practices
  • A significant staffing shift will need to occur in order to process the applications and administer the testing, mark the testing and follow up with applicants?  Don’t forget about applicants who contest their results.  Or will the recruiters who are responsible for recruiting and interviewing now take this task on as well?
  • I suspect this option results in a significantly slower process, and higher cost to the Police Service.

ii.Risk of Injury

  • What happens if someone is injured during assessment?
  • The question in court will be [because you know they will sue you] “what did you do to ensure no one would be hurt?” We all know you cannot do everything.  That’s why lawsuits are so successful.  Don’t forget, the person who sues you and claims they can never get hired by a police service now as a result of the injury may never have even qualified to be an officer in the first place

iii.Vision & Hearing

  • Unless you have qualified staff to administer the testing and have the equipment, you will likely need a 3rd party professional to deliver the testing or have the applicant take this on themselves pre-application
  • Asking an applicant to provide this at the time of application keeps the cost upfront rather than shifting to the latter parts of the process where applicants fear they may not pass

3. The Application Boom misses Good Applicants

  • Your organization will not hire every applicant.  On average, only 5% of annual applicants are hired as officers
  • If you remove the ATS requirement, you increase applications…good news right? But are they good applicants.  These applicants still need to be screened by your staff
  • Have services considered increase costs in human resources to take on administration of testing in addition to an already heavy workload of processing applicants, conducting interviews, background investigations and so on.  What will slip through the cracks?
  • All of this to end up with the same number of suitable candidates
  • I suggest this means your process will now be longer, and another Police Service will hire your strongest applicants

4. Your Good Reputation Draws Good Candidates

  • At the end of the day your reputation as an organization influences people to apply or not.  It’s not easy to repair a damaged reputation
  • When you choose to have a different process than all other services, your reputation is questioned
  • Good applicants may grow frustrated with the arduous In-House Testing process because it means they must travel to various areas for testing AND interviewing, repeatedly
  • For the organizations that are seeing large numbers of retirements [like all services] the realization should be that recruiting will have to increase and more of your successful applicants will be from outside your region. ATS certification supports the applicant coming to your community in the same way the one driver’s license scenario supports the family trip
  • In a time when services are already struggling to get good applicant’s…does this switch back to an antiquated system make sense
  • Do you want the reputation of lowered standards simply to fill gaps or does our community deserve the standards associated to policing to be upheld

End of the Day…

​I will leave you with this: if you were lost in the desert and water is scarce, would you be more concerned with how you drink the water (process driven) or more concerned with finding a way to have consistent access to water (applicant driven)?  Regardless of how many changes you make to a process, if the applicant pool does not see value in applying to your organization you will not have applicants.  

So what’s next?

A simple solution:  ATS has been around almost 20 years now.  Are there some changes that can be made to meet your specific needs?  Can they meet you in the middle? Is there a conversation that can happen with your third party provider that perhaps you haven’t tried?

ATS is not the enemy.  Let them help you find the best qualified and suitable applicants.  Allow them to stream line your applicant’s experience and absorb liability.  How applicants are treated during the recruitment process is a crucial factor in overall job satisfaction later.  Applicants need to feel wanted and have a system that makes sense or they simply will not stay with your organization. 

But hey, if they don’t stay – the OPP is always hiring 🙂 


Have a question, comment or suggestions about what you would like to know more about?  Leave us a message in the comments.  But as you can imagine, negative comments will be deleted.

Can I ask you for a favor? Please  Share this with someone who you feel would also like to know how to get hired in Policing.  Sharing is caring!