The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2023 67 AFSA NEWS STATE VP VOICE | BY HUI JUN TINA WONG AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202)-647-8160 Resourcing Career-Long Learning There is a lot of buzz around the release of the State Department’s new Learning Policy. I am particularly enthusiastic about the 40 hours of dedicated learning and use of individual development plans (IDPs), including supervisors’ ratings of their support for their team’s professional development starting in the 2024-2025 Foreign Service rating cycle. These elements are combined with the new Foreign Service Institute “core curriculum” to bolster fundamental skills. The Learning Policy— centering our professional development in a culture of career-long learning—is critically needed. The Foreign Service workforce faces significant gaps in both leadership and management skills and in emerging specializations such as cybersecurity. AFSA plays an important role both in outreach to the FS workforce to deepen this culture of learning and in advocating for programs and initiatives that help our members to reskill and upskill for global power competition. I want to offer some specific suggestions on next steps. We need to deploy a comprehensive workforce communications strategy to inculcate a cultural shift toward learning. For too long, we have let an outdated perspective thrive, namely, that our FS workforce should be able to learn on the job, jump in and swim, training not required. FSI training has too often been seen as time taken away from a performance evaluation at best, irrelevant at worst. To the department’s credit, reforms of FSI curriculum have greatly improved course offerings and teaching approaches, helping the FS workforce regain a level of trust in its training institution. FSI alone can’t succeed in catalyzing this cultural shift, however. The Policy and Planning Office, Bureau of Talent of Management, and regional and functional bureaus have identified additional barriers and tested new learning solutions. I would like to see bureau-led communications, such as the recent FSI and Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy (CDP) joint messages on new tradecraft coursework to build cyber resilience. We also have much to learn from academic institutions, which have developed the most cutting-edge curriculum on leadership and specialized fields. The department should leverage its 40 hours of learning per year to invite all supervisors to seek new management best practices and actively deploy them. There should also be a community of practice, accessible to everyone, to socialize and expand best practices and tips. Communicating ideas and encouraging training are insufficient without the proper resources. In the current limited-budget environment, the department needs to creatively incentivize—and fund—the FS workforce to engage in career-long learning. First, our institutions should compile a list of strategic partners already aligned with Learning Policy goals and expand those private-sector funding streams. Some successful learning partnerships include the Secretary’s Leadership Seminar at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; the Cox Foundation Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) Champions Initiative; and the University of Denver/Aspen Institute International Career Advancement Program. We should also tap into the biggest donors and philanthropists to offer more across our ranks. Within the department, we need to “train the trainer” much more efficiently and expansively. Every participant in pilot leadership and skills enhancement programs should take at least one action to spread the knowledge acquired and join the department and AFSA in advocacy for more of these positive learning opportunities. Count on AFSA to also partner with our members to share these learning and leadership stories with members of Congress. AFSA also believes that employees encumbering positions, who subsequently take time off to engage in learning, must be fully backfilled. We need to develop a significant training float as a long-term option, while in the short term, we need to leverage our own workforce. We have minister counselors and other members of the Senior Foreign Service awaiting ambassadorial confirmations and other senior administration appointees who could lead or serve in this training float. We could potentially tap interagency colleagues from Commerce and USAID to train State’s workforce on specialized topics including global health security and commercial statecraft. Specialists could crosstrain our generalists (or vice versa). We don’t have any centralized database of expertise to infuse such offerings for our workforce. We need one. Let’s challenge each other to learn, and to learn from each other, every day. n The Learning Policy—centering our professional development in a culture of career-long learning—is critically needed.