Preparing students for the public sector

- November 28, 2014

Kevin Quigley (second from left), director of the School of Public Administration, chats with students. (Nick Pearce photo)
Kevin Quigley (second from left), director of the School of Public Administration, chats with students. (Nick Pearce photo)

They might not be shouting it from the rooftops, but students and faculty of the School of Public Administration are pleased nonetheless with becoming finalists for the IPAC/Deloitte Public Sector Leadership Award for their Professional Development Program.

“The public service sector is sometimes a very quiet culture,” says Kevin Quigley, director of the School of Public Administration. “We frequently value staying behind the curtains… and so to get national recognition for the work that we’re doing is nice. It’s external validation.”

The Professional Development Program [PDP] may only be in its third year, but its very youth reflects the reality of a changing workforce and the necessity of innovation and adaptation. It’s that innovation that landed it as a finalist in the Healthcare and Education category of the awards.

The Institute of Public Administration of Canada [IPAC] and Deloitte partner for the Public Sector Leadership Awards to give recognition to public sector organizations across the country that display outstanding qualities in leadership, innovation and initiative, with the aim of encouraging better public services in Canada.

Focus on practical skills

Working under the umbrella of the Masters of Public Administration program [MPA], the PDP was born out of students’ requests for resources to better handle some of the challenges of the current workplace: increasing youth unemployment, hiring freezes and a competitive job market.

Centered on the idea of lifelong learning, the PDP formulated a lesson plan that focuses on practical skills through various dimensions such as internships, mentoring and coaching.

The internship program gives students work experience and relevant job skills, and is one of the more popular components of the PDP — in fact, it has a 100 per cent success rate in placing qualified students with paid work terms. Internship Coordinator Marguerite Cassin says the work terms are an opportunity that has to be earned by students.

“It gives them experience in government but it also gives them the experience to be hired on the basis by which public servants are hired, which is competitively and on the basis of merit,” she says.

Dr. Cassin notes that students who have completed their work term improve exponentially in their school performance and their ability to self-govern their education.

“These are very special young people, in my opinion… They have a very special dimension to them which is they want to make a difference in the public sector,” she says. “And so giving them the best advice and help on how to function at the level of government of their choice, is something we’re very committed to doing.”

Learning from experience

The PDP was recently made a compulsory part of the MPA degree. It’s distinct from similar programs across the country due to its comprehensive and collaborative approach. Its pass/fail design requires that students build on their own initiative, but the cooperation and constructive feedback gained from relationship building is also a critical element.

Although the PDP curriculum takes more of a workplace model than an academic one, it is this transitional teaching in a school setting that “gets students to think about what they want,” according to Dr. Quigley. “It’s about learning from experience, your expectations, your career objectives, your ability to adjust and adapt. There’s no report card in life.”

The program has close ties with all levels of government and many public sector organizations, ensuring students are continuously made aware of the evolving needs of potential future employers.

“The ultimate benefit to employers would be that they get a more mature, more capable, and a more astute employee,” says second-year student Jeff Bryant.

“Understanding that going forward I will have a career in the public service and knowing that I can get a job based on what I'm learning in professional development is really important,” adds Lucy Hulford, also in her second year of the program.

A boost to students

Dr. Quigley believes an MPA can provide an essential boost to students who have completed their undergraduate work and want to consider honing their skills and knowledge for a career in the public service. Pointing out that the Government of Canada hires individuals from a wide range of fields, he asserts that every undergraduate degree has value and can be integrated successfully into the public sector. “It’s about [reaching] these students with a four-year degree, in whatever subject, and flipping that into a meaningful career.”

Strong support and positive relationships with both alumni and external employers has sustained the high success rate of MPA graduates.

“On average, 80 per cent of our graduates have career-related jobs by July 1,” says Dr. Quigley. “[The program] is a fairly significantly transformative experience; they’re not in the same place they were in when they joined. It’s a very robust professional and academic orientation we’re giving them towards public policy.”

The winners of the IPAC/Deloitte award will be announced at IPAC’s 10th Annual Leadership Conference in February.


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus