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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Training Political Staff (UPDATED)

Two things emerging out there that, to me, are worth paying attention to.

One - Canada has a recognized training deficit.  This is a big problem; traditional low-training required jobs, like manufacturing, are moving to places where the labour is cheap and employer responsibilities are minimal. 

The current Conservative government feels the solution to this problem is to reduce mandated employer responsibility and weaken unions on the one hand while bringing in more already-trained foreign labour on the other.  The desired end-goal seems to be the opposite direction most industrial economies head; weakening the local workforce and an increased reliance on foreign-trained labour.

How they feel that's sustainable is beyond me, but it fits well with their overarching policy scheme.  A reduction in employee rights and stiff competition with cheaper, better-trained foreign labour is only going to encourage employees to take unnecessary risks (resulting in avoidable injuries and related health costs/rising health premiums employers will eventually want government to deal with) or a backlash against foreign workers just looking to make ends meet.

Plus, it makes us less competitive in the Knowledge Economy.  Why on earth would you embrace horses and bayonets when the market is increasingly demanding a bit more value add?

Two - thanks to social media, the dumb mistakes of political staff resonate more, last longer and are increasingly tied to Party brand.  As is the case with Members themselves, the inclination is for top-down management and tightly-controlled messaging. 

It's ironic in the extreme that Parties who advocate free speech, liberty and decentralization for their country provide the exact opposite internally, but I digress.  Given the quick turn-over of political staff, nobody's ever felt that internal human resource development was worth the effort; it's far easier to see labour as disposable and focus on replacement, not investment.

Until now, that is.

Here's where the two strands connect:

Government, for better or worse, leads the country and sets the standard; whatever government is seen to get away with, the Private Sector is going to try to get away with, too.  The reverse is equally true; if government raises the ethical bar, they get to hold Private Sector players to the same standard.

Given the fact that there will be increasing pressure (for political gain by some, for headline traction by others) to hold Parties to account for staff, the traditional methods of circle-the-wagons or throw-under-the-bus aren't going to hold water; not if you want to get keep retaining the best talent.  The advantages one gets working for government will quickly be outweighed by the chance of getting a criminal record. 

The same, oddly enough, will likely hold true for political suppliers like polling firms and phone banks who might start pushing government to provide stronger regulation as a way to cover their own skins.
Necessity being the mother of invention and all, we could quickly get to a point where government is forced to train and account for their staff.

Of course, if Political Parties wanted to be proactive on the training/internal HR piece, they could get ahead of the curve and craft an example, scoring themselves a win out of this emerging picture.

Instead of waiting for the hammer to drop, Parties could invest in their future and put together internal training programs, peer support processes and staff transition strategies.  This would do a couple of value-added things:
- reduce the risk of poorly-considered decisions/actions burning the brand
- increase Party loyalty among staff both during their tenure and in whatever career path they follow next
- facilitate best-practice sharing
- institutionalize internal knowledge and experience, ensuring that wheels don't endlessly need to be reinvented.

More to the point, by setting a training example, Parties could more easily lean on Private Sector employers to do the same thing.  In fact, if governments wanted to get creative, they could play the role of stone in the soup and nurture a public-private partnership to develop an online training platform that would allow every citizen to beef up their skills.  From there, all kinds of possibilities emerge.  This in turn would feed in to the efficiency and access benefits to be had from e-government.

Of course, taking a proactive approach requires an acceptance by decision-makers that they aren't the best at what they do right now, something many ladder-climbers simply don't have time for.  It's far easier to download the problem than it is to take responsibility for the solution.

At least, it has been.  How the Michael Sona story plays out might encourage a few people to change their minds. 

They can wait and take their chances or they can plan ahead; how they choose to manage internal resources is always a great indicator of how they'd manage public ones and the public will be watching too.

UPDATED 23/11/13: As the event of this week have demonstrated, emails are becoming to political scandals what DNA evidence is to crime scenes.

But one way or another the episode stands to change the way governments conduct their backroom business - forcing their operatives to either seek even more clandestine means to manage crisis or to stick to arrangements that can withstand the light of day.  It would be nice but probably overly optimistic to hope they opt for the latter.

No promises, Ms. Hébert, but there are still some rational optimists in politics!

1 comment:

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