The Foreign Service Journal, April 2023
AFSA NEWS 38 APRIL 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The Vibe from Foreign Service Orientation Classes STATE VP VOICE | BY TOM YAZDGERDI AFSA NEWS Contact: YazdgerdiTK@state.gov | (202) 647-8160 As you may know, AFSA hosts lunches for new Foreign Service orientation classes at AFSA HQ to intro- duce them to our organiza- tion and hopefully get them to sign up as dues-paying members. As of this writing in mid-February, we have just hosted the latest State Department orientation class of 230—the largest in State Department history. The priorities that each class will face have changed since I joined the Foreign Service in 1991, but the commitment to the mission and work of the department has not. Since I became AFSA’s State vice president in sum- mer 2019, I have had the opportunity to participate in more than 10 orientation lunches. Here are some of my observations: • When I joined, the average age of orientation classes was 28. Now, the average age is 34. Current FS members have greater work experience, and more of them have prior govern- ment service. • During COVID, the department combined FS generalists and special- ists into virtual orientation classes and chose to keep these combined classes when in-person events restarted. AFSA has strongly supported this change. New FS members now have a deeper appreciation for the critical role of each group. Relationships have been forged that will likely pay dividends in making the department function more smoothly and collegially. I wish that had been in place when I joined. • The vast majority of my orientation class saw the Foreign Service as a 25- to 30-year career. This is what we were going to do for the rest of our working lives. But that has changed. More new members, especially the increasing number com- ing from the military, have already had a career or are thinking of a career beyond State. • New FS members appear more willing from the start to take on equity and work-life balance issues. At one of our recent lunches, I sat next to a newly minted economic officer who made a strong case for making the FS oral assessment virtual. She argued that mak- ing people pay to travel to Washington, D.C., for the FS assessment was inherently inequitable. Some people, she said, could not afford it or could not take time off from work. Plus, they would likely not be as “fresh” for the assessment as someone who lived in the Washington area. I informed her that State had already decided to make this assessment virtual for the very reasons she out- lined. (Note: AFSA is aware that this change is momen- tous, but the equity argu- ment does makes sense to us. That said, after receiving a preliminary briefing from the department, we will seek more in-depth data and infor- mation before we weigh in on this change definitively.) • These orientation classes are some of the most diverse—in terms of background, gender, ethnicity, and race—that I have ever seen. This is par- ticularly true of those hired under the Limited Non- Career Appointments (LNA) program. Serving primarily as Con- sular Fellows and bringing a wealth of language skills, LNAs work for a period of up to five years and are eligible for AFSA membership dur- ing that time. At one of our orienta- tion lunches, LNAs said many would like to join as FSOs after their first tour of duty. LNAs have asked if they could be included in the Mustang program, a highly competitive process that allows tenured FS specialists and qualified civil servants to forgo the Foreign Service Officer Test and move directly to the quali- fications evaluation panel and, if successful there, to the oral assessment. AFSA has asked State to investigate if this is feasible and what effect, if any, it would have on the FS work- force. It would be a shame to lose this highly talented and experienced group. Flexibility, Creativity Are Key to Retention From what I gather, our newest FS colleagues prize flexibility, work-life balance, and diversity in a way that just was not conceivable back in the day. They are interested in creative solutions for spou- sal employment, flexible work schedules, pursuing advanced degrees and bringing that knowledge back to the department, and ensuring that the Foreign Service looks like the rest of America at all levels, includ- ing at the mid- and senior levels. To retain this talent, the State Department must make a concerted effort to find these creative solutions. Please let us know what you think by writing us at email@example.com. n Our newest FS colleagues prize flexibility, work-life balance, and diversity in a way that just was not conceivable back in the day.
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