Internal audit of the foreign service development program

Internal Audit & Accountability Branch
25 October 2018

Table of Contents

I. Background

Introduction

  1. The audit of the Foreign Service Development Program was included in the Department’s 2018-2020 Risk-Based Audit Plan, which was reviewed by the Departmental Audit Committee at the February 2018 meeting and subsequently approved by the Deputy Minister.

The Foreign Service Development Program

  1. Foreign Service Officers, within the International Network at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), play an important role in the delivery of Canada’s migration programs with more than 300 Officers at 58 locations abroad. Foreign Service Officers may spend more than two-thirds of their career working in Migration Offices abroad. When not posted abroad, Officers work at IRCC headquarters.
  2. The Foreign Service Development Program (FSDP), which began in 1998, is the IRCC‑led program for recruiting and developing entry-level participants into effective Foreign Service Officers through the use of rotational assignments, training and self-learning. The FSDP is an important program used by IRCC to develop Foreign Service Officers. It prepares them for the work of delivering Canada’s programs abroad. Foreign Service Officers provide operational delivery support in the Migration Offices abroad, including but not limited to the processing and decision-making on Immigration and Temporary Resident applications.
  3. FSDP participants are recruited through the post-secondary recruitment campaign led by the Public Service Commission. This campaign is open to participants from within and outside the Public Service.
  4. Once recruited through the campaign, the participants are required to obtain proficiency in Canada’s official languages. Candidates can be on language training for up to 14 months, depending on their second official language skill level. If candidates are not successful in achieving the desired language level, they do not receive an offer to join the FSDP. Once this language requirement is met, participants begin their training and development to become a Foreign Service Officer. The FSDP is a three-year program. The first year involves training and development mainly completed at headquarters in Canada, followed by a two-year international posting at a Migration Office abroad. The FSDP participants appointed from outside the public service are on probation for the full three years of the development program compared to the traditional one year probation period for most entry-level employees in the public service.
  5. The classification for Foreign Service Officers ranges from FS-01 to FS-04, with participants in the FSDP initially appointed at the FS-01 level. For this entry-level classification, participants are required to meet certain competencies and performance objectives. Upon successful completion of the FSDP, participants are appointed to the FS-02 level whereby they receive responsibilities and assignments reflecting their increased skills and competencies.

II. Audit objective, criteria, scope and methodology

Audit objective and criteria

  1. The audit objective was to assess the adequacy of the Foreign Service Development Program to develop entry-level participants into Foreign Service Officers to meet operational needs.
  2. Criteria were selected to evaluate the extent to which the Department has met the audit objective. The criteria were based on internal and external sources, and leading practices.
    • Participants are recruited into the Foreign Service Development Program to meet identified operational needs.
    • Training and assignments are planned and provided to Foreign Service Development Program participants so that they acquire the required skills and knowledge to fulfill their responsibilities as Foreign Service Officers. 
    • The Foreign Service Development Program activities and outcomes are monitored to ensure the program is meeting the intended objectives.

Scope

  1. The scope covered the period from April 1, 2015 to January 31, 2018. This time period was, in some cases, expanded from April 1, 2014 to May 2018 to consider the recruitment process for FSDP participants who were already in the program during the period covered by the audit.
  2. The examination of the activities for recruitment under the mandate of the Public Service Commission were excluded from this audit.

Methodology

  1. The following audit procedures were performed:
    • Review of applicable legislation and policy documents;
    • Review of key supporting documents and relevant background documentation such as the Foreign Service Development Program Guide;
    • Conducted tests and examination of steps of key processes, procedures, and systems;
    • Conducted interviews with key personnel in Canada and in IRCC Migration Offices at selected missions in Manila and New Delhi; and,
    • Conducted an online survey of all current FSDP participants and recent graduates. The online survey had a response rate of 90 percent (44 out of 49 participants and recent graduates).
    • Analysis of the 2017 Public Service Employee Annual Survey.

Statement of conformance

  1. The audit was planned and conducted in conformance with the Institute of Internal Auditors International Professional Practices Framework, as supported by the results of a quality assurance and improvement program.

III. Audit findings and recommendations

Human resource planning

  1. Human resource planning serves as a link between human resource management and the overall strategic plan of an organization. It generally involves determining business goals, scanning the environment and conducting a gap analysis, setting human resource strategies to achieve the business goals, and reporting on progress. As such, having a Human Resource Plan to develop sustainable strategies to recruit qualified participants to the Foreign Service is imperative to meeting the international operational needs.
  2. One of the responsibilities of the International Network is to manage the migration programs delivered abroad. To support its operations, the International Network carries out the recruitment and development of entry-level Foreign Service Officers through the FSDP. The International Network developed staffing plans to satisfy the requirements of the Department’s human resource planning process.
  3. IRCC’s Human Resources Branch provides guidance and oversight for the overall administration of the departmental workforce. This includes working with other branches in overseeing the integrated human resource planning which helps to identify optimal strategies and activities for important human resource management components such as recruitment, retention, and learning and development.
  4. Overall, the Human Resources Branch staffing plan developed by the International Network to meet departmental requirements identified the need to recruit 85 to 95 FSDP participants from April 2015 to March 2018. The International Network also prepared separate planning documents for the recruitment of participants into the FSDP in order to set out specific details such as hiring targets.
  5. Thirty-eight participants in total joined the FSDP from April 2015 to March 2018. This meant that an insufficient number of FSDP participants were recruited to fill the entry-level Foreign Service positions as required. As a result of this gap and the need to fill vacant positions abroad, entry-level positions were filled with Foreign Assignment Officers. Since the audit was completed, 14 participants have joined the program and an additional 26 candidates have qualified for the program.
  6. The use of Foreign Assignment Officers is a temporary short-term measure to immediately address a gap that has been increasingly relied on, but it is not a permanent long-term solution to sufficiently address the human resource gaps in the Foreign Service. A process to plan for long-term human resource needs in the Foreign Service is critical to the success of overseas operations.

Recruitment process for the foreign service

  1. There was no FSDP post-secondary recruitment campaign launched in 2011 or 2012 during the Federal Government’s Departmental Reduction Action Plan (DRAP). The FSDP recruitment resumed in Fall 2013 and the most recent recruitment campaign was launched in Fall 2016. There was no FSDP post-secondary recruitment in 2017. Following the 2016 recruitment, candidates are to be provided with up to 14 months of official language training in order to meet the language requirements of the Foreign Service. As such, it could take as much as three years for these recruits to start the FSDP at headquarters.
Exhibit 1. Foreign Service Recruitment and Development Program timeline

Foreign Service Recruitment and Development Program timeline - text version below

Text version: Exhibit 1. Foreign Service Recruitment and Development Program timeline
Recruitment of Candidates
  • September/October 2016: Foreign Service Development Program (FSDP) Campaign is launched
  • Fall 2016: Public Service Commission (PSC) Exams
  • March 2017: IRCC receives the list with candidates who passed PSC exams
  • March to December 2017: IRCC written exams
  • December 2017 to March 2018: IRCC interviews
  • April 2018: Security clearance up to four months
  • June 2018: Language training and testing (up to 14 months)
Development Program for Participants
  • July 2018 to August 2019: Establishing cohorts for IRPA training
  • FSDP year 1- July 2018 to August 2019: IRPA Training, Home Division (at national headquarters) and Overseas Training Assignment (posted abroad). The start date of Year One depends on when language training is completed.
  • FSDP year 2 and 3: Two Year Posting Assignment (posted across the globe)
Development Program for Graduates
  • End of Year 3- July 2021 to August 2022: Graduation
  1. Officials from the International Network acknowledged that the length of the current recruitment process presents an impediment to recruiting sufficient numbers of FSDP participants in a timely manner. Recently, officials have considered other staffing options such as the possibility of transitioning existing IRCC employees with Foreign Assignment Officer experience into the Foreign Service and therefore supplementing the number of Foreign Service Officers in addition to the FSDP recruits. This option was explored for the recruitment of FS-02 Officers launched in January 2018.

Foreign Service Development Program Guide

  1. The International Network developed the “Foreign Service Development Program Guide” (the Guide) for the administration of the training and development program to ensure that the participants and the program administrators are provided with the information required to carry out their roles and responsibilities. The Guide outlines the program objectives and describes the roles and responsibilities of the participants, administrators, supervisors and managers. The Guide also indicates that progression through the training and development program over the course of the three years is designed to recognise that the participants’ duties would evolve through a series of assignments of increasing scope and responsibility.
  2. Within the International Network, the FSDP Coordinator is responsible for administering the program. Supervisors and managers at headquarters as well as in the Migration Offices abroad are responsible for monitoring the progress of the participants and reporting to the FSDP Coordinator. A report is prepared for the FSDP Appraisal Review Committee (ARC) which is a three member committee responsible for assessing each participant’s progress through the program until graduation. The positions at headquarters that are responsible for the management, delivery and oversight of the FSDP are all filled by rotational Foreign Service Officers, with the exception of one managerial position.
  3. FSDP participants indicated that they were not always aware of the schedule of activities that they were to undertake in their first year of the program. As such, they were not clear on the expectations for their first year of the program. As per the Guide, the schedule for the first 12 months is determined by the FSDP Coordinator. As part of the audit examination, an online survey of FSDP participants and recent graduates was conducted. The survey results indicated that about half of the respondents (46 percent) were provided with a schedule for the first 12 months of the FSDP. Without communicating the schedule for the inaugural year of the program, participants may not fully understand what is expected of them. In addition, a detailed schedule would provide assurance to the program administration that the cohort of FSDP participants received the same communication about the requirements for training, assignments and the associated timeframes.

Foreign Service Development Program training

  1. As per the Guide, training and development in the program includes a mandatory and recommended training plan. The training components of the Guide are expected to be listed in the Personal Learning Plan for each participant. The training is designed to provide participants with the knowledge and skills needed to become effective Foreign Service Officers. The mandatory training is required to be completed in the first 12 months of the program before the participants’ first two-year posting abroad. Mandatory FSDP training include:
    • Orientation session - six days (eliminated from the FSDP in 2018);
    • Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and Regulations – six to seven weeks;
    • Overseas training assignment - six weeks; and
    • Comprehensive Pre-Posting Administrative Briefing - two days.
  2. The Guide states that failure to successfully complete the FSDP mandatory training results in removal from the program. In addition, participants are also required to complete the mandatory training expected of all IRCC staff. 
  3. Over half of the survey respondents (55 percent) knew there was mandatory training, and 34 percent knew there were mandatory courses but did not know which courses were mandatory. As a result, there is an opportunity to improve the communication with participants regarding the mandatory training requirements. In addition, there is no consistent process for tracking the mandatory training which would inform the program administrators if a participant failed to complete the required activities and therefore be removed from the program.
  4. During the first 12 months of the program, participants complete a six week overseas training assignment. According to the Guide, this assignment is to allow new officers to put into practice newly-acquired knowledge on policy and procedures. However, during the assignment, participants are not expected to conduct full processing responsibilities. As per the Guide, after completing the overseas training assignment, participants should have gained sufficient knowledge to carry out the roles and responsibilities of an FS-01 Officer at a mission abroad.
  5. Results of the survey indicated that while all respondents received their overseas training assignment, just under half (45 percent) agreed that they had sufficient knowledge to carry out the role of a FS-01 Officer at a migration office abroad. If half of the participants are at risk of being posted to their first assignment abroad without having sufficient knowledge to carry out the expected workload, then there is an opportunity to strengthen the training program to ensure that it meets the needs of all participants and better prepare them for their work abroad.
  6. FSDP participants are assigned to a home division at national headquarters in the first 12 months of the program. The goals and objectives for the first 12 months of the FSDP are not well defined, thus an assessment of the tasks assigned at the home division is not conducted. As a result, assigned tasks are not always relevant to the work of a Foreign Service Officer abroad. Considering one of the key roles of a Foreign Service Officer at a mission abroad is to process applications using the Global Case Management System (GCMS), participants could benefit from gaining this experience in Canada to increase their working knowledge of GCMS. However, the tasks assigned at the home division often do not involve processing using GCMS.
  7. To optimize participants’ training and development and build knowledge on how to process applications, more suitable assignments in the home divisions could be selected, for instance, in the Case Processing Centres in Canada. This would also help strengthen the integration of processing officers across the three processing networks, which is part of the vision for the Operations Sector. It would also provide participants with hands-on experience using GCMS. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents worked in a Case Processing Centre before their two-year posting abroad.
  8. The survey also found that half of the respondents were provided with the opportunity to benefit from an additional Temporary Duty (TD) assignment abroad where the expectation was to process applications and meet operational targets at a migration office. Forty-five percent of all survey respondents completed a TD assignment. This means that more than half of the FSDP participants were not exposed to the experience of processing the caseload of a Foreign Service Officer before beginning their first overseas posting. The Department could better leverage the opportunity to build competencies in application processing among the FSDP participants as well as provide support to overseas Migration Offices by making a TD assignment a training component of the first year of the FSDP.
  9. In Fall 2017, some FSDP participants were posted to their two-year assignment abroad off-cycle by completing the first year program requirements in only six months. No training activities were eliminated. However, the time at the home division or assignment at headquarters was reduced. The basis for fast-tracking some individuals within this cohort was to fill vacant positions and address operational needs. However, no assessment was conducted to assess how the changes would impact the participants’ readiness for their first overseas posting.

Evaluation of the Foreign Service Development Program participants’ development and progress

  1. The Government of Canada’s Public Service Performance Management process involves an annual cycle for all federal public servants in which performance management assessments (PMAs) (objectives, competencies and learning plans) are established at the beginning of the fiscal year; the performance is reviewed at mid-year; and performance is assessed at fiscal year-end.
  2. In addition, the Guide requires that all participants’ performance and progress are evaluated at the 12, 24 and 36 month anniversary of their commencement in the program. Furthermore, the FSDP participants are required to obtain feedback and an evaluation of their work each time participants change supervisors. This occurs fairly frequently as the participants are expected to have exposure to a variety of training and assignments as well as various business units during their two-year posting abroad.
  3. As a result, FSDP participants were being evaluated anywhere from two to seven times in the first year, and one to four times in the second and third year of the program. In many cases, the evaluations were repetitive and were a duplication of the PMA process. This duplication in evaluations may cause additional workload for both participants and supervisors and may result in inconsistencies in evaluations.
  4. FSDP administrators have been encouraging participants and supervisors to use the departmental PMA tool for the 12, 24 and 36 month evaluation since the launch of the tool in 2014. However, some supervisors indicated that they did not know which tool to use or how to apply the tools available for the FSDP evaluations. The review of the FSDP participants’ files noted that supervisors used up to four different methods for evaluations: the PMA tool, a Temporary Duty Performance Assessment, narrative evaluations, or the Performance Assessment and Development Tool which was used prior to 2014.
  5. As a result of the lack of common tools and guidance to support the participants’ developmental goals and the evaluation of participants toward achieving those goals, supervisors did not always know how to carry out their roles and responsibilities outlined in the Guide. Over half of survey respondents (57 percent) generally agreed that their supervisors established clear developmental goals and about half (48 percent) generally agreed that their supervisors worked with them to map out how they were to fulfill their developmental goals throughout their assignment. Without clear and consistent communication to all participants about developmental goals and how best to achieve those goals, participants may lack the means to attain the level of competency required of an entry-level Foreign Service Officer.
  6. We were informed that there is an ongoing process to review and monitor the evaluations throughout the year and that the feedback from this evaluation process was shared with the FSDP participants. The survey results indicated that about half of respondents (52 percent) generally agreed that their supervisors provided them with ongoing feedback on their performance. However, the analysis of the participant files indicated that the feedback was not documented in the files. Feedback is an important component of a formal developmental program as it ensures open communication and awareness regarding expected behaviours, criteria against which participants are evaluated, and contributes to improved performance.
  7. Oversight of the participants’ progression through the program was provided through a review of the evaluations carried out by the ARC at the anniversary of the participant’s commencement in the program. According to the Guide, the ARC reviews should occur at 12, 24 and 36 months. However, in some cases, the records of decision for the ARC were not always communicated to the participant in a timely manner. We were informed that this was the case during a peak period and the operating pressures during Operation Syrian Refugees. It was apparent that more recently, the files for the participants showed improvement in their completeness and consistency of documentation over the scope period for the audit.

Foreign Service Development Program participants’ workplace well-being

  1. As previously indicated, most FSDP participants are on probation for the full three years of the development program. This can contribute to increased stress, pressure to demonstrate good performance and the avoidance of raising issues of concern to ensure their job security. Some participants indicated that they did not feel comfortable communicating concerns about conflicts or other issues as they felt this could impact their evaluation and the successful completion of the FSDP.
  2. Furthermore, there is no formal mechanism in place for participants to seek recourse when they have concerns or questions about their performance assessments. Having a mechanism to support and resolve concerns among the entry-level Foreign Service community would contribute to improved workplace well-being. In particular, it would better support those who are on lengthy probation periods and in international work environments, which are more isolated from departmental resources and personal support networks that could assist to resolve conflicts and concerns.
  3. The results of the 2017 Public Service Employee Annual Survey are consistent with the workplace wellbeing issues identified during the audit. Overall, the survey results indicated that the entry-level Officers (FS-01) responded more negatively to the workplace well-being questions in the survey than other officer levels. (Note: Survey respondents at the FS-01 level could include officers in the FSDP as well as Foreign Assignment Officers, depending on how the respondent self-identified.)
  4. Forty-two percent of entry-level Officers (FS-01) had a negative response to the question asking whether their immediate supervisor creates an environment where they feel free to discuss with them matters that affect well-being at work. In addition, when asked if their immediate supervisor seemed to care about them as a person, entry-level Officers also responded more negatively: 33 percent of FS-01 responded negatively compared to 11 percent for the overall Foreign Service Officer respondents. Overall, the workplace wellbeing issue represents a risk for the Foreign Service Officer community.
  5. Recommendation 1. The ADM Operations should conduct a review of the Foreign Service Development Program to ensure that it meets the operational needs of the Department. The review should incorporate the following areas for improvement:
    • Consider alternate options as part of a revised strategy for the recruitment of entry-level candidates to the Foreign Service and align human resource planning with the departmental five-step approach;
    • Align the training and development activities for entry-level program participants with activities under the Operations Training Academy (currently under development) and ensure that the activities are well communicated and effective at preparing participants for the Foreign Service;
    • Streamline the participants’ evaluation process, where practical, while ensuring that tools and guidance are clearly communicated to participants and supervisors and used effectively to support expectations for successful performance; and
    • Develop and implement specific measures that enable and support workplace well-being for entry-level Foreign Service Officers, taking into consideration their unique workplace situation.

IV. Conclusion

  1. The International Network has in place the Foreign Service Development Program to develop participants for its Foreign Service. The Foreign Service Development Program has been preparing participants to work in the Department’s Foreign Service since 1998.
  2. Opportunities for improvement were identified to improve the program to recruit, train and develop entry-level Foreign Service Officers to better address the operational needs to deliver Canada’s migration programs. These included:
    • revising the recruitment strategy and ensuring that human resource planning aligns with the department’s five-step approach;
    • revising training and development activities;
    • streamlining the performance evaluation process; and,
    • developing specific measures to enable and support workplace well-being for entry‑level Foreign Service Officers.

Appendix A – Management response

Recommendation 1

The ADM Operations should conduct a review of the Foreign Service Development Program to ensure that it meets the operational needs of the Department. The review should incorporate the following areas for improvement:

  • Consider alternate options as part of a revised strategy for the recruitment of entry-level candidates to the Foreign Service and align human resource planning with the departmental five-step approach;
  • Align the training and development activities for entry-level program participants with activities under the Operations Training Academy (currently under development) and ensure that the activities are well communicated and effective at preparing participants for the Foreign Service;
  • Streamline the participants’ evaluation process, where practical, while ensuring that tools and guidance are clearly communicated to participants and supervisors and used effectively to support expectations for successful performance; and
  • Develop and implement specific measures that enable and support workplace well-being for entry-level Foreign Service Officers, taking into consideration their unique workplace situation.

Management response

Management agrees with the recommendation and will initiate a review of the FSDP to ensure it meets the needs of the Department. Following completion of the review, next steps will be identified and an action plan developed, as appropriate, by May 2019.

The length of the current recruitment process does present an impediment to recruiting sufficient numbers of FSDP participants in a timely manner. Actions were initiated in May 2018, in conjunction with the Human Resources Branch, to develop a new FSDP intake process. While the audit identified a number of areas for improvement, the Foreign Service community does have a high retention rate within IRCC.

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