NEW ENERGY FOR A COMMON GOAL
Nineteen recent National Competitive Examination recruits complete orientation week at Staff Development and Learning Section in Geneva.
BY VIVIANE BRUNNE (UNOG)
Nineteen new staff members, all of whom found their posts at the United Nations through the National Competitive Recruitment Examination (NCRE), have recently completed their orientation week, the second of its kind taking place in Geneva. While most of the participants were permanently based in Geneva, others joined from Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Niamey in Niger. The week was an intensive training course on all kinds of issues concerning work for the United Nations. Several sessions aimed at making the NCREs familiar with the basic functioning of the UN, including basic staff rules, the library and online resources, the concepts of mobility and career planning and the pension fund. Carlos Lopes, Executive Director UNITAR and Interim Director of the United Nations System Staff College helped in building a better understanding of the organization with his presentation on the UN common system’s structure and mandates. Jan Beagle, Deputy Director-General UNOG reported on trends and developments in the Human Resource Management at the UN and shared her experiences in the introduction of new management approaches such as for example the core competencies. A videoconference acquainted participants with members of the Staff Development Service, Division for Organizational Development, in New York, including Doretta Miragalia, Katarina Holm-Didio, Anne Favreau and Roberto Ferreira who answered questions on mobility and career development. More information on these issues was provided during the session with Serguei Raskalei and Jaime Kearney-Sassi of Human Resources Geneva (HRMS). Later on, members of the Staff Development and Learning Section (SDLS) also introduced the e-PAS system.
Two panel discussions – one of senior staff and one of more junior staff who had joined the UN a few years ago –were to explain how all these issues have worked for NCRE recruited staff members individually. The experiences of the discussants, collected in numerous duty stations around the world, reflected well what it meant when the UN becomes home, when in fact the influences of manifold experiences both in the field and at the headquarters determine your truly multinational identity. As it turns out, the motivations for working for the UN have not so much changed from earlier to present generations. Both juniors and seniors appear to be motivated by the diversity and by the multicultural experience of the UN. Both also want to make a difference. Senior staff particularly highlighted the benefits of going to the field as the work on the ground holds a very strong message on how the UN can make a difference in people’s lives. “Don’t talk but walk”, therefore suggested one of the seniors on a panel. Mobility between headquarters and the field helped to understand the organization more fully and to see the bigger picture thus better understanding how and where to find one’s place. Everywhere you went, duty stations functioned differently, explained another of the speakers, so that everywhere you could learn something new.
Life-long learning was in fact one overarching theme. Thomas Neufing, Chief of SDLS, reminded the participants that learning takes place on the job, in short-term internal trainings and in longer-term trainings outside the UN. Participants of the orientation week were strongly invited to explore all three options, but in particular to take the challenge every single day, to move out of the comfort zone. The new staff members were asked to listen actively: ‘You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much’, as one speaker put it. Participants were encouraged to confront themselves with new things out of their own initiative. Senior staff highlighted that the UN was full of opportunities and how every staff member should constantly try to bring in new ideas and to put them into practice, be it on little issues such as work processes or on setting up new projects.
One of the highlights of the week certainly was the assignment of the mentors to the participants. Pamela Schaffner Gerber of SDLS, who introduced the mentoring programme, explained the aim of the programme as sharing information between generations on everyday issues at the workplace as well as on long-term planning. An evening reception offered a welcome opportunity to mentors and mentees to first get to know each other. Ms. Aminata Djermakoye, Chief of Administration, joined the reception and shared some of her experiences about her career in the UN.
Among other issues discussed during the week more individual questions of work life balance were also addressed. Ivan Koulov, Head of Human Resource Management Service, encouraged participants to build strong relationships with family and friends who can give the necessary support in challenging times. In addition, as some of the senior staff members advised, when tensions occurred at or around the workplace one should always be clear about why one has once joined the organisation and remember that one’s work is needed in order to achieve the bigger mission of the UN.
Parts of the week were then also dedicated to learning more practical skills. A two day workshop focussed on collaborative negotiation which also addressed different cultural styles of communication. In role-plays, participants could practice negotiating real life situations, for example between young P-2 staff and their supervisors or between national and international staff in a field office. An introduction to administrative and report writing in the UN offered additional practical information of use for day to day work.
Towards the end of the week, several of the participants said they now felt a lot more integrated into the organization. Even when going to the cafeteria they now recognized many more faces and had an idea of how other people contributed to the work of the UN. The credits for the excellent organization of the orientation week go to Theresia Redigolo and her team – Jesus Guerrero and Luise Fischer – of SDLS. Their excellent selection of inputs and contributors, the immensely helpful additional material provided and the extraordinary attention to details made the whole week a worthwhile and enjoyable experience.
Overall, listening to the new NCREs who participated in the course, there could be no doubt that they were truly inspired by all they heard during the week. All of them have come into the organisation with years of experiences and diverse backgrounds and are now keen to apply these in practice. Therefore, the organization is lucky to benefit from their new energy as well as their knowledge. After all, the week also proved to be an excellent networking opportunity for the new staff – not only with the speakers in the panels, but also amongst themselves. The fact, that SDLS had prepared for joint evening activities for every single day of the week certainly helped. Participants have surely gone away with a new sense of unity and identification with their employer. Bonds have been formed and networks were created that will most probably accompany the NCEs throughout their careers – up to the point when they themselves will be sitting on the other side of the table as mentors or senior staff giving advise and sharing experiences with the then newcomers.