Recruiting & Retaining: Are The Best And Brightest Attracted To Public Service?

When thinking of government service in Pakistan, a few things tend to pop into a person’s head. A sharply dressed officer with a prominent power walk, a shiny official car, a personal secretary carrying files and folders. “What’s not to like?, one tends to think. But, is the public sector and its practices in Pakistan really all that they’re made out to be?

civil_servantThe choice to follow a career in public service doesn’t have to come with age. Some people dream of becoming an astronaut, some of racing cars and some simply want to serve their country. There’s no doubt that a country cannot function without a framework of government employees who’s duty is to make sure that the rights and services deserved by a citizen of the nation are dispensed to them with the utmost ease and lack of hindrances. They are the framework through which the constitution acts, through which the rights of a citizen are upheld, the means through which a government interacts with its citizens, the connecting bridge between the decision making and the on ground functioning of a country.

Let’s be honest, that’s a heavy burden for any pair of shoulders. To be given the duty of running a country at a defined level is a great responsibility and it’s only logical that these particular jobs should only be given to the most capable of people. This, in turn, causes the questions to arise; are the best possible candidates being selected for the job currently? If not, then why not? What can be done and needs to be changes regarding the application and selection procedure?

When it comes to public service in Pakistan, the Government service comprises two distinct categories of officers. One, recruited at the federal level, either through the contemporary examination scheme or direct induction, provided minimum job requirements have been met. Two, officers recruited at the provincial level who apply and are selected through the same two means.  Since provinces report to the federation, it is usually the case that federal officers are allocated more powers and seniority than their provincial counterparts.

Openings in the service are advertised in small black and white columns in newspapers. There’s nothing about them that stand out or pull your attention. Meager descriptions of the openings don’t give a person much of a hint about where applicants will be ending up, what the job itself entails and what packages an applicant may be eligible for. The typical bureaucratic black and nature of desk jobs comes across as nothing that would inspire or excite an aspiring civil servant. There are no media campaigns depicting the travels and adventures you can have like the marines. There are no recruiting drives in universities targeting potential applicants, showing them what the public sector has to offer. Civil servants should be the best and the brightest, it only makes sense when giving them such responsibilities. If there’s no need to draw them in or show them a world full of opportunity, does that mean the service already gets the crème de la crème?

The majority of university graduates that specialize in science and engineering based fields in Pakistan rarely end up going into

Image via civilservant.org

Image via civilservant.org

public service. Does the Government not require technocrats for policy making regarding technical fields? Public administration courses for undergraduates at the university level barely exist. Should the grooming for public service not start off early if a person would prefer it? When the functioning of a country is pivotal when it comes to its establishment, why is there so little public knowledge and outreach on behalf of the service itself? The recruitment process is inherently based on minimum disclosure and outreach. Maybe the public sector has the top tier of employees. Maybe they’re alright with not having them.

On the other hand, when seen through the perspective of retaining employees, the civil service rarely sees voluntary cast-aways. The perks and privileges allocated to a public sector officer and more than enough to keep them happy. Official transport, a comfy desk, powers associated with the relevant job and field given, subsidized utilities are just a few to name. The most important factor however is security. Once you’re in, you’re in. You’ve got a pension, you get to take travel as part of official tours and most of all you can’t be removed from the service unless a major offence such as corruption has been proved. As stated before, these facts aren’t very well known amongst the general public. The only way through which you get to understand and know about the public service is through firsthand knowledge through an actual person. Word of mouth, as to speak. Families of doctors keep making doctors and families of engineers keep making engineers unless an inspiring job seeker comes into contact with someone with knowledge of public service that ends up appealing to them. The only reason for that is the lack of exposure the general public has to the line of work. Not to say that that’s the story of every household, but an actual passion that leads a person to public service isn’t a common finding.

Without a doubt, the country’s machinery needs well educated, oriented and motivated to work smoothly.  It needs mindsets that are diverse, originating from different backgrounds and levels of exposure with expertise in a broad spectrum of fields. Currently, the needs of the public sector may be met with the existing workforce, but when it comes turn for the younger, more broadminded and skillful generation to takes its place, the question arises that will the selection process change accordingly to accommodate such future civil servants? The world is moving forward, and if that’s not the case with the recruiting procedure currently employed, our citizens will not have the best and brightest formulating and executing policies for them.

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3 thoughts on “Recruiting & Retaining: Are The Best And Brightest Attracted To Public Service?

  1. Pingback: Recruiting & Retaining: Are The Best And Brightest Attracted To Public Service? | Pakistan Blogger

  2. Hey Zainab! Really interesting post, particularly since I come from a long line of civil servants, am married to one, and was, once, one myself. Of course, you’re writing about civil servants in Pakistan and I’m writing about their U.S. counterparts. Based on what I’ve learned from reading your well-written post, civil servants in the U.S. share some similarities with those in Pakistan.

    For example, while I agree with your belief that civil servants should be the best and the brightest, many in the U.S. view civil servants with antipathy, choosing to believe that all civil servants eventually become lazy employees who forego continuing education, clock out exactly at 5 p.m., and do just enough to avoid termination. While there are certainly people like this – in every industry – this isn’t necessarily the norm for civil servants in the U.S.

    It is true that many civil servants don’t work much overtime, but that is because they are rarely permitted to do so. Overtime costs the government more money because overtime is usually paid at 150% of the employee’s hourly rate. Other civil servants, like my husband, often work evenings (many public meetings are held at night so that people may attend after work), weekends and through lunch. When I was employed as an Assistant County Attorney, I was considered a civil servant; I frequently put in 12-hour days and worked weekends – and I wasn’t paid for my overtime hours because I was a salaried employee, who was expected to “do what it takes” to complete my work, despite the hours required to do so. I also wasn’t well-paid when compared to attorneys working in private practice, some of whom made 3 to 4 times as much money as I did annually.

    In the U.S., the reason we have such difficulty attracting and retaining the best and the brightest in many civil service positions boils down to money. As you know, I have a Doctorate of Juris Prudence and my husband has a Master’s Degree, yet, as civil servants, neither of us had or have a shiny, company car. We do have a Florida Pension, but it’s value has radically changed in the past few years. In another decade or so, I would expect that it will disappear altogether.

    Moreover, the advent of 24-hour media has brought more scrutiny than ever upon our local governments. As a result, there is constant pressure on every local government administration to improve services, while simultaneously reducing property taxes. In the last couple of decades – and certainly during this recent recession – government jobs have become less attractive to qualified candidates because politics, ultimately, decides whether or not anyone in departmental management or administration keeps their jobs. In fact, most mid to high level “civil servant” positions are now “at will.” There is no protection from termination.

    Couple the lack of job security with the fact that civil servants – at the local government level, anyway – are not paid a competitive wage. If my husband was employed by a private institution, he’d earn considerably more than he does and would have been able to negotiate a better package for himself. However, my husband isn’t motivated by finances and neither am I, which is why our county is fortunate to have such a highly-qualified, educated and talented employees. He likes working for the people. Not to say he will never enter private practice, but he’s really happy with what he’s doing now. For him, it’s the challenge of the work that matters. I respect that about him.

    Unfortunately, all civil servants don’t have the luxury of settling for mediocre pay; many have large families to care for and educate. In fact, a child born in the U.S. in 2012 will cost approximately $242,000, on average, to raise until the age of 18. This doesn’t include the cost of college or university. As a result, many civil servants end their government careers in their 30s, and take their experience, education and credibility to private institutions that will pay them more, enabling them to better support their families.

    Sorry to write a blog post in your Comments section, but you touched on a subject that I’m extremely passionate about. Please keep in mind that my experience is predominately limited to local government. Federal employees, who are employed by the U.S. government versus state counties and municipalities, have different pay rates and benefits. Members of the Foreign Service certainly represent some of our best and brightest. The entry exam is 3 days long and most applicants have to retake it several times before passing the test, if they ever pass. My dear friend’s husband is in the Foreign Service. Like myself, he has a J.D., but he also passed the bar exams in both California and Florida. Still, it took him 3 tries before he passed the Foreign Service test. It’s just that hard.

    Wonderful post as always. I enjoy learning about life in Pakistan. So are civil servants in Pakistan paid extremely well?

  3. Pingback: Recruiting & Retaining: Are The Best And Brightest Attracted To Public Service? | Pakistani News

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