Civil service trainings

February 21, 2021

There is a need to re-design the academic and institutional structures for training and development of government officials

The human resource development paradigm in Central Superior Services of Pakistan is meant to ensure that the right people are available to meet the present and future needs of public institutions in the country. Governments try to achieve this objective by organising training programmes for civil servants to impart knowledge, enhance skills and change attitudes.

In theory, these programmes are concerned with the provision of learning and development opportunities in order to improve individual performance. In practice, however, there is a big question mark on the efficacy of these trainings to create value addition in public-service delivery.

There is a wide array of trainings for civil servants in Pakistan including departmental trainings, need-based and promotion-linked trainings. After the successful completion of pre-service induction trainings, civil servants assume positions in their respective departments. The next mandatory training for promotion is mid-career management course for Grade 18 officers, followed by the senior management course for Grade 19 officers, and national management course for Grade 20 officers.

Finally, there is an executive development course for officers in Grade 21 and above. These trainings are delivered at the National Institutes of Management in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Islamabad campuses, under the umbrella of the National School of Public Policy. The proclaimed objective of these ‘courses’ is to boost the capacity of our public functionaries for improved service delivery and to help meet challenging public policy issues of the country.

The outdated eligibility criteria and unreliable assessment system paved the way for generalists and amateurs to join the civil service and eventually hold some posts that invariably require a certain degree of proficiency in the relevant subject for achieving expected levels of performance. The situation becomes even more complex when the civil servants are assigned leadership slots in organisations that actually demand specialist knowledge in areas like operation design and business modelling, procurement and contracts management, data handling and analysis, monitoring and evaluation, etc.

Those who possess reasonable levels of managerial and technical capability in these functional domains can steer the organisation in the right direction. Mostly, however, on account of their lack of relevant occupational skills and competence, these organisational leaders fail to produce the right quantity and quality of public good.

The evolving nature of state institutions and governments across the world constantly necessitates acquisition of new skills and knowledge to adapt to the ever-changing needs of public service delivery. Now the question is to what extent the public sector trainings in Pakistan or trainings abroad address the issue of enhancing the skills set of our bureaucracy in line with the institutional requirements and at par with international best practice?

With this query in mind, let us examine the civil service training regime along the four key success factors of training need analysis, training plan and delivery, employee motivation and impact evaluation.

The Prime Minister’s Reform Team should realise that the quality of public service provisions and capacity of civil service are the key determinants of good governance.

Civil servants come from various educational backgrounds. In most cases, the positions they hold do not correspondwith their academic and technical competence. The predominant presumption is that this capacity gap can be largely filled through implementation of robust and bespoke training and development programmes. However, the process of training needs analysis is so perfunctory in our public sector milieu that the specific training needs of individuals and teams cannot be systematically ascertained.

The absence of detailed job descriptions and the requisite core competencies add fuel to the fire. The trainings thus designed are unable to fill the capacity gaps among potential trainees.

The training plans also lack in proper research and analysis and merely rely on the discretion, assumptions and experiential learning of the so-called planners and organisers. The key dimensions, such as the number, frequency and length of trainings, trainee nominations, selection of trainers, training venue, mode of instruction (e.g. on campus, online, hybrid approach) and logistic needs, all follow a stereotyped process.

As is always the result of poor planning, the trainings so delivered fail to inculcate the desirable capabilities in the target groups and, thus, carry a dismal tag of ‘exercise in futility’.

Top down approaches to bring about change in people’s behaviour and personality traits always face severe resistance. So is the situation with these disjointed, dull, and time-insensitive trainings for civil servants in Pakistan.

The key motivation for pre-service trainings is the dream of lucrative positions, power and authority. For need-based departmental trainings, the incentives range from a break from daily routine and portfolio building to monitory compensation.

For promotion-linked trainings, the catch simply revolves around counting the number of training days, and eagerly looking forward to the promotion board. For foreign trainings, the motivation is more about glamour of the foreign lands, tourism and savings from the stipend money.

In short, the motivation levels of most of the learners attending any of these training initiatives are at the best minimal due to multiple factors, including their perceived remorse to attend seemingly useless sessions unlikely to contribute towards knowledge acquisition and attainment of skills. These counterproductive factors cause a big dent on the utility and effectiveness of training programmes.

State-driven interventions are usually tested through scientifically designed evaluations. Has there been any exercise on the part of the training institutes or trainees’ parent organisations to gauge the outcome of these training programmes and take corrective measures for future endeavors? The answer is perhaps obvious.

As a nation we seriously lack in quantitative skills, such as impact assessment and data analysis so that it becomes almost impossible to put in place a system to collect statistics about the effectiveness of professional development programmes in bringing about change in the practice of service delivery for the end users.

In such a scenario, the entire edifice of these training programmes is nothing but a big gamble. The losers are once again the ultimate intended beneficiaries who continue to suffer at the hands of officialdom inflicted with persistent incompetence and dysfunction.

There is a strong need to re-design and upgradethe academic and institutional structures for training and development of government officials in Pakistan. The Prime Minister’s Reform Team should realise that the quality of public service provisions and capacity of civil service are the key determinants of good governance, which can essentially be accomplished through need-based and meaningful on-the-job and off-the-job trainings, most suited to the actual capacity building needs of civil servants. Whimsical and aberrant choices can lead to further decay in capacity levels.

The writer is a senior institutional reforms and capacity building professional. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Civil service trainings