Nurturing future policymakers – Canadian Government Executive

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Development
May 7, 2012

Nurturing future policymakers

Natural Resources Canada is accustomed to nurturing, protecting and growing Canada’s most precious resources. Since the inception of the Policy Analyst Recruitment and Development Program (PARDP) in 2003, NRCan has also been able to nurture and grow one of its most important resources, its young policymakers.

The PARDP program has allowed a select few of Canada’s best and brightest to fasttrack their way up the public service ladder into positions of responsibility through hands-on training with some of NRCan’s most high-profile projects.

Anil Anora, assistant deputy minister for the minerals and metals sector of NRCan – and champion of the PARDP program – said the program was put in place to strengthen the policy capacity of NRCan, and has played a key role in filling the holes left behind as executive baby boomers reach the age of retirement.

Anora said the program’s selection process is extremely rigorous and only selects the best candidates, who are fresh out of university. “You might get 1,500 applicants and we might have 15 or 20 recruits each year. It’s a healthy competition.”

The candidates selected are recent masters and PhD graduates, with degrees in varying disciplines, including economics, environmental sciences, political sciences and many others. Anora said Canada is a superpower when it comes to natural resources, and these graduates could potentially go on to be the faces of the country’s diverse energy sectors.

Amanda Troupe, project officer for the PARDP program, said the number of interested young Canadians has tripled in the last year. “We went from some 500 applications (last year) to over 1500 this year. There’s huge interest in the program. There’s a huge number of extremely well-qualified candidates.”

The program takes successful candidates and places them in their first assignment, usually ranging from a 12- to 18-month period in a participating sector of NRCan such as Energy Innovation and Energy Technology, Canadian Forest Service, Minerals and Metals, Earth Sciences, Science and Policy Integration, the Major Projects Management Office, Public Affairs and Portfolio Management.

Candidates start off at the EC-02 level and, if successful, can move up to the EC-04 or EC-05 level within 24 to 36 months. Anora said graduates get a good sense of how to make the kinds of efficiencies NRCan requires. He said the two main focuses of the program are recruitment and structured development. The chosen candidates are given assignments with formal training, on-the-job training and language training.

Retention of graduates is extremely high. However, until candidates have completed the program, they are under probation and have several assessments to ensure they are the right fit for the department and files they have been assigned. “It gives you an opportunity to tweak and adjust an assignment or move on to the next assignment,” Anora said.

Off-ramps have been put in place to ensure people are placed in the most appropriate places for their skill sets. He added that the cost of managing recruits once they are selected is minimal. “In the end I think it’s a real benefit. Even if the recruit goes to another department, it’s still a win for the department.”

Mentors are assigned to the chosen candidates to help them through the process. Mentors help coach the candidates and give them active management. Anora is currently performing a critical assessment of the PARDP program to ensure it continues to produce successful results. “It’s always healthy to evaluate,” he said. “There is certainly a desire amongst all parties to continue the program forward.”

 

Faces of future policymakers

Marie-Claude Auger Bouchard became interested in the PARDP program while working on her master’s degree in environmental science and international law at Universite de Montreal. The 29-year-old Montreal native worked at Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) during her first term on a non-reactor-based isotopes production contribution program aiming to find new ways of producing isotopes without using reactor-based isotopes.

“It’s a high profile issue for the health and safety of Canadians,” she said. “This is the kind of issue I like to work in. I learned a lot, I was doing valuable work.”

After completing her 12-month project on medical isotopes, she landed a position on a team that dealt with issues involving Canada’s arctic sovereignty, including the negotiation of borders with Russia and the United States. Bouchard said she felt very fortunate to gain the practical experience the PARDP program provided. “I don’t know how you could get this much experience without it,” she said. “When you start to change jobs, this program really allowed us to move quickly throughout the government.”

In addition to the skills she developed under the PARDP program, she was able to learn how to speak English fluently in two-and-a-half years. “Now I know how to write in English,” she said. “I didn’t speak English when I started.” Bouchard said the transition from French to English wasn’t the only translating skill she developed during her time with the program. “I learned how to translate scientific knowledge into language politicians and other people not in the field can understand. My grandmother could understand it.” She said the PARDP program also helped her understand the decision-making and lobbying processes.

Bouchard, who is currently working at AECL on a special team restructuring the CANDU reactor division, said the program could be slightly improved by providing additional assistance to candidates to help them find their second and third work placements. “When I was hired it was easier. Now with more cuts in government, it’s harder to find a place. I see friends in the program struggling. Divisions don’t necessarily have the funding anymore.”

 

Jeff Phillips, a recent graduate of the PARDP program, said it was instrumental in introducing him to a career in policymaking revolving around Canada’s precious resources. He said the program is important because it attracts young, bright individuals into the public sector. “I think I can safely say if it wasn’t for the PARDP program I wouldn’t be working at Natural Resources Canada.”

The 28-year-old, a former resident of Waterdown, ON, received his undergrad in public policy at Carleton University before moving west to complete a master’s in political science from the University of British Columbia. He worked in the uranium and radioactive waste division for his first 12-month project. For his second, he spent 12 months in the oil and gas division, working specifically in shale gas.

The exposure he received in both projects was extremely positive, Phillips said. “There’s a lot of value in the program. It’s been great.” He successfully completed his term with the oil and gas project and joined the NRCan clean energy team, where he currently works as a policy advisor to associate deputy minister Karen Ellis. He said one of the most important skills he was able to improve over his time on various projects was the ability to think critically and “see the broader picture,” while being engaged in delicate situations where he was required to make decisions based on his best judgement.

Phillips’ short-term goal is to gain more experience and exposure on relevant, important policy areas. His long-term goal is to contribute as best he can to the public service.

His advice for incoming candidates preparing for their first work placements? “You get what you put in. You’ve got to carve your own path within it, and it’s incumbent on you to really push to develop your own interests and skills. The program won’t do that for you. It’s on you as an individual.”

 

Andrew Snook is a reporter/photogra

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