The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2024 13 LETTERS PLUS To make this work, managers and supervisors at all levels will need to carve out time for professional development for their teams. One obstacle facing the implementation of the new Learning Policy, which aims to provide a more systematic approach to professional education and training for the Foreign Service, has been the embarrassment of riches these professionals bring upon entering. Most Foreign Service generalists and specialists are highly educated. Notwithstanding the absence of formal academic requirements for anything beyond a high school diploma in the case of generalists, many enter with advanced degrees. Moreover, the average age of FS entrants hovers around 33, so most bring signi cant professional experience to the table. e assumption is that, after they pass the rigorous Foreign Service exams and interview process, incoming o cers and specialists are already “prepared” for the work they will do. Unlike, say, military o cers, who enter as young adults on the organization’s bottom rungs (sometimes beginning their careers in one or another military academy), FS professionals traditionally aren’t viewed as needing further training or education to develop the knowledge and skills they need to do the job. If one is seeking an explanation for the historical absence of mandatory skills training at State, one would have to begin there. Beyond the (possibly) awed assumption that doing diplomacy depends on an easily transferable skill set, the central challenge becomes one of “level-setting.” e backgrounds of incoming Foreign Service professionals are stupefyingly multiple and varied—from the newly minted college graduate to the retired Air Force colonel adding a coda to their decades-long military career. So it is practically impossible to know who knows what (or how much), and who has which skills at what degree of development, irrespective of rank or grade. e deeper question becomes: Do all FS professionals have the knowledge and skills they need to do the work they are asked to do at each successive stage of their career? Judging by repeated needs assessments, reports of supervisors, and complaints from employees themselves, the answer to this question is a resounding “no, they do not.” Enter State’s new Learning Policy. e intentions of this policy, whose elements are identi ed in the March Straight from the Source article, must be applauded. It focuses rst on the core challenges facing diplomats today: accelerating technology leaps, advancing climate change, and the emergence of the People’s Republic of China as a peer competitor of the United States, among others. It also homes in on the core knowledge, skills, and attitudes that the practice of diplomacy requires. Boiled down to basics, these are: thinking critically and strategically; communicating e ectively; and adapting quickly to di erent cultural, organizational, and situational environments. A tall, almost all-encompassing order indeed. However praiseworthy its intentions, this policy appears easier to roll out as an idea than to implement in practice. Its practical success will depend on fully harnessing the political will of the current administration to marshal the resources needed to get it done, probably on a scale similar to what the late Secretary of State Colin Powell did in establishing mandatory leadership and management training a generation ago. Absent the political mandate to implement mandatory training, the new learning policy will depend on notoriously overworked and resourceA Step in the Right Direction BY ALEXIS LUDWIG RESPONSE TO MARCH 2024 STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE “A LOOK AT THE NEW LEARNING POLICY” BY SARAH WARDWELL