Why do we have junior officers?

Part of my thesis research is on development programs in the federal public service. The more I read about these programs, the more interesting I become in their utility not only as a method of developing a practical skill set in various classifications, but also as a method of retention.

Whether or not we agree with it, people in certain classifications are now unlikely to stay in ‘entry level’ positions for a great deal of time before moving on. Departments should be retaining this talent through some sort of incentives, while nurtering the talent in a smart way.

The plan I’m about to outline has a few stipulations:

  • Specific Classifications/Streams — The PS has a huge variety of jobs, even contained within the same classification. The programs that I think should participate are ones where there is a clear junior–> intermediate –> senior hierarchy that broadly perform similar functions across government.
  • Time in Rank — For better or worse, I don’t think people are staying at the EC-02/PM-02/IS-02/PE-02 levels as long as they used to. Unless people have an amazing work environment (one that people are willing to sacrifice money and career development for), they are likely going to try to move on within a few years.
  • Career Progression — The job competition process in government is a marathon, not a sprint. If you know that in a year you’ll want to move on, or you just want to keep your options open, you’ll need to plan upwards of 6 months in advance if you’re going to apply to a closed competition.

Development programs exist as a way to provide skill development and mentorship (things we should be doing anyway) to employees, while providing them promotions in line with those skills. A board meets, often times, to assess the work completed by the employee and decide whether or not they should be promoted. Most of these programs get you from junior to the ‘working level’ (IS-01 to IS-03, EC-02 to EC-04/5, PM-01 to PM-03/4).

The more I look at these programs, the more I ask myself “Why aren’t the vast majority of positions in government part of development programs?”.

The current system of recruiting people for junior positions outside of development programs means that these officers can become preoccupied with where to go next, and may or may not be focusing on broad skill development (as they are just in one specific position, without guidance as to where they can go next). In a development program, that guidance is provided and mentorship is stressed (again, I’m not sure why we aren’t just doing this anyway.).

The benefits, as I see it, is that we increase retention, and can broadly develop skill sets for particular classifications (policy, programs, regs, HR, comms, etc). At the end of the day, we’re always going to need junior officers, by let’s make sure we don’t just keep those people there forever. Let’s give them the chance to move to the working level through a process that’s a bit more structured and gets people to focus on developing a portfolio of work.

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2 thoughts on “Why do we have junior officers?

  1. Interesting article and has been part of some of my discussions at work. The balance, focusing on the breadth and quality of work experience, in essence developing a well layered career cake, and upward mobility is sometimes difficult to find.

    • Exactly! Looking to not just have someone fulfil a bunch of tasks on a list, but rather develop a portfolio of work that makes them better and builds into their career plans.

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