Public Service and the Youth: Can they Make a Difference?
Traditionally, a job in the public service was coveted by the young, educated and highly motivated. The post of civil servant was prestigious; it meant a steady salary with good benefits, decent hours of work and the near impossibility of being fired. Great deal, right?
For those locked out of the business and banking community, the public service provided an opportunity for social mobility and financial security. But do young people still view the civil service the same way today? I’d say most definitely not.
Being a civil servant is certainly no longer ‘sexy’.
Unfortunately, there was no concurrent revolution within the civil service. Instead, a government job became synonymous with low-paying salaries, angry supervisors who would never be promoted or transferred to another department, and an eternal state of career inertia and frustration.
Yet, still, the importance of the work carried out by the public service is undiminished. For better and for worse, the policies and structures fashioned within public institutions are what keeps us running. The roads on which we drive, the schools in which we learn, the hospitals that treat us, and the laws by which we abide are all put in place by the men and women of the public service. Professionals and businessmen tend to think solely in terms of the bottom line and increasing profit to the shareholder. A nation cannot be built on those motivations alone. We need public servants.
Unfortunately however, the ministries have failed to operate like our well-oiled, private-sector machines such as Ansa McAl, Bermudez and SM Jaleel. Everyday interaction with the public service for a license renewal or health centre visit can prove to be a painful process. Delays, inaction, inaccessibility and reams of red tape can make any process involving public entities less than pleasant.
Our generation can help fix this.
As a trade consultant, I have had many varied experiences in the public service at the national and CARICOM level. New faces with novel ideas are not always welcome within those hallowed walls. Established personnel eager to secure their incredulously self-serving fiefdoms tend to find creativity and spontaneity threatening, giving rise to schisms between the experienced and the new, and diminishing the appeal of ‘making a difference’. Outdated human resource systems then make these said novel idea holders moving targets… Ouch!
But it would be unfortunate for us to all become businessmen and bankers with minds focused solely on making money. All societies need their technocrats to analyse gaps in the social system and address them in an innovative manner. Without the civil service there would be no society from which to profit. And without young civil servants the civil service will lack innovation and currency.
So then, what can be done to make the civil service attractive once more?
Just a few of my thoughts:
- A highly transparent human resource management system. Where technical staff is concerned, the ‘big stick’ mentality is less than effective. University graduates are keen to be treated with a certain level of respect and to be consulted on their future within the institution and their career development. As such, staff should be evaluated by a team of personnel, ensured of certain training opportunities, and those who have resigned should have exit interviews to assess room for HR improvement.
- More competitive compensation packages. It is a fact that Caribbean, public service coffers do not run deep – especially considering the present global, economic crisis. However, there are ways to structure compensation packages to make them more attractive, such as monetizing vacation leave so that you can cash in your days if they are not used. Additionally, salary structures can be organized so as to facilitate personal, travel, clothing and entertainment allowances (tax free), which make up for a nominal, base salary.
- Flexible working arrangements. Many organizations have now implemented work from home and flexi-time to combat our present traffic situation. While this may not be convenient where the job involves daily public interaction, in other areas it can provide fluidity that is attractive to staff who have no interest in battling our horrendous traffic jams or paying exorbitant, rental fees to be close to work.
- Independent institutional auditing. This will reveal certain cracks in the system, such as nepotism and misallocation of funds, which tend to leave young people disillusioned. Where human resources are concerned, these audits will review the system that is in place for staff development including training and succession, which will assure that institutional memory is preserved. Importantly, the fact of these audits will instil a certain level of confidence in prospective employees.
- Greater public interaction. The public service is here to serve the public. What better way to assess the work that is being done but to have it critiqued and built upon by the public by way of public forums, institutional blogs and other forms of viral and personal interaction. In this way, an employee will not feel like the work is being undertaken in a vacuum but that it is valued and valuable.
I don’t have all the answers, but in this space we can feel free to vent our opinions on the public service. As a change of pace, I’d like to invite the views and experiences of persons who have worked for the national governments and/or CARICOM institutions in whichever capacity. Challenge yourself with the questions raised and let Outlish know… can young people really make a difference within the public service?
Gabrielle Gellineau is an Attorney-at-Law and Trade Consultant who loves to communicate via words, written and spoken. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out her blogs www.carifuture.blogspot.com and www.geevoice.wordpress.com.