From left to to right: Lucy Joy, from Vanuatu, Berry Muller, from Marshall Islands and Lui Bell, from Samoa, were among the participants to the SPC Pacific Islander Junior Professionals (PIJP) Programme. Image: Ariella D’Andrea
The Pacific Islander Junior Professional (PIJP) Programme, run by the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division of the Pacific Community (SPC), offers 12-month positions within FAME, to nationals and residents of Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) who are currently employed in a fisheries-related role. The evaluation of the PIJP Programme, summarised here, aims at identifying its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for further improvement.
The PIJP Programme began in 2013 and 14 participants (six women, eight men) have participated as of April 2018, when the programme was evaluated.
Qualitative interviews were conducted with eleven PIJP participants (six past and five current) and six SPC staff members. The Kirkpatrick model for evaluating training was applied for the analysis.4 The model identifies four lev- els: overall reaction and/or experience (level 1); gaining new knowledge, skills or confidence (level 2); applying learning (level 3); and outcomes resulting from training (level 4).
To join the PIJP Programme, a candidate must provide a let- ter of support from his or her home agency, and the agency must agree to hold a position open for the PIJP’s return. When selected, most PIJPs interviewed were employed with government agencies, one with a non-governmental organisation and one was unemployed.
While specific objectives for the PIJP Programme are not consistently articulated, it seems evident from the review that the programme has a key objective of building capacity in the region, including personal and professional develop- ment for participants.
Over the years, the range of areas within FAftE where PIJP roles are offered have expanded, from initially just being coastal fisheries science to now including oceanic fisheries and coastal fisheries management and policy.
Recruitment process and logistics
The PIJPs interviewed considered the selection process to be ‘competitive’ and ‘fair’, although this is perhaps unsur- prising given they were all successful candidates. There was a mixed response with regard to how supportive home agen- cies were for participants to take up a PIJP position. One past participant commented that their agency ‘did not ini- tially support a one-year posting… but when they saw the benefits [my] immediate boss encouraged it’. Their concern was ‘the workload left behind’. Current PIJPs, however, appear to have been generally encouraged by their work- place. One commented that their government agency was immediately supportive, recognising the PIJP Programme as ‘long-term training’ that was supportive of their agency’s employee development plan.
Arrival in Noumea and settling in
PIJPs appreciated and acknowledged SPC’s efficient organ- isation of travel arrangements to Noumea, where they were met at the airport and transferred to their accommodation.
The lack of baggage allowance was noted as a challenge for both arrival and return. Concerns were expressed about the limited amount of personal baggage for a one-year posting when ‘only allowed one extra suitcase’ and the extra cost of bringing additional baggage.
PIJPs, especially those recruited earlier, also commented on difficulties in the first few days on arrival, including finding it hard to cope and dealing with homesickness:
It was quite daunting coming to a foreign land and knowing no one.
At the beginning it was difficult… I don’t speak French.
While early PIJPs encountered some difficulties, it is nota- ble that SPC responded to the most pressing issues through improving the ‘arrival experience’ and developing induction and buddy systems for new staff. For current PIJPs who arrived around the same period, the induction process went smoothly because they had a network of support.
Despite coming from different backgrounds, they felt they were liv- ing comparable experiences.
All PIJPs interviewed considered the remuneration for the PIJP positions to be adequate, although some felt that not having the same access to benefits as other internationally recruited staff at SPC made some things more difficult and expensive, particularly for those with dependents (e.g. extra costs of bringing and providing for their family, hiring a caretaker for young children).
Participants’ experiences (Kirkpatrick Level 1 – Reaction)
Development and implementation of a work plan
ftost of the former PIJPs indicated that their work pro- gramme was either set mostly by SPC (rather than devel- oped around the PIJP’s specific learning interests), or was unclear for the first few weeks. In 2018, PIJP managers’ approach in the development and implementation of PIJP work programmes seem to have moved towards a greater balance of what PIJPs wish to learn and what SPC needs. One described it as an ‘organic and ongoing’ process, with meetings being driven by PIJP needs. For another, there was a recurring meeting every two weeks with their supervisor, with plans and priorities continuously being adjusted. Par- ticipants who frequently met with their supervisors appreci- ated the effective guidance and feedback.
Feedback and follow-up is good to know if you’re on the right path and to make sure you’re learning.
Current PIJPs also seem to have had a stronger diversity of tasks and topics included in their work plans than previ- ous participants, although some participants still expressed a desire to have more balance and diversity in their work, with one identifying skills they wished to acquire including strategic planning and leadership.
Work place expectations and field work
Some PIJPs commented on the high expectations at SPC in relation to workload, including the need to multitask and prioritise.
Overall, PIJPs found the fieldwork both challenging (in terms of professional work and the logistics of travel) and rewarding. Some earlier PIJPs felt they had been ‘thrown in the deep end’ in relation to field missions without sufficient preparatory training:
[The role was] ‘to assist’ – but after working with SPC onsite I then went out by myself! But it was a good experience and challenge – I learned a lot.
This sentiment, however, was not shared by current and later PIJPs. One later PIJP stated; ‘I was mentored well on the first trip and the second. For the third trip I did it myself – even the letter of agreement’, this was about four to five months after starting the PIJP term’. This was described as a ‘big change and learning process for me’. While earlier recruits noted experiencing some difficulties with ‘lack of guidance and/or advice during initial weeks and months’, this seems to also have improved over time.
Final output of the PIJP posting
PIJPs took considerable satisfaction from being able to author or co-author a written report of their work. For example:
For me to have my name on the report was a big achievement.
I was able to produce all the technical manuals.
By the end [I was] co-author on four country reports.
Participants’ learning (Kirkpatrick Level 2 – Learning)
PIJPs commented positively on their professional learning experience; ‘I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn coastal fisheries science and management at an expert and professional level’.
The opportunity to travel and work in other countries was a highlight for most:
I travelled to Pacific Island countries to see first hand coastal issues and learn how communities and local governance deal with them.
The best aspect? Working with other Pacific Island countries – visit and work with people – see how others approach things; their challenges. Makes a big difference in understanding.
Learning was also not always limited to the work pro- gramme; “[SPC] pushed me to other opportunities for learning ... not specific to the project”. One SPC staff mem- ber also noted that the programme is not just about tech- nical skills, but ‘also working to build professionals’. They felt that aspects relating to professional behaviour, however, were not always clearly articulated.
Participants’ use of new knowledge and skills (Kirkpatrick Level 3 – Behaviour)
Of the past PIJPs interviewed, all returned to their home organisation after their PIJP term (excluding the partici- pant who was not employed). This was in line with the organisations’ commitments to hold a position open for the returning PIJP, however, PIJPs did not always return to the same role.
Several past participants spoke positively about their use of knowledge learned at SPC in their current roles:
My experience has been vital in leading and assist- ing in conducting trainings, collecting data, doing monitoring and evaluation of data collection.
They really appreciated, acknowledged the skills brought back to the organisation.
For one, implementing a national survey on returning home was the ‘biggest accomplishment of SPC work …. I produced the report directly using what I learned at SPC – organisation, science’. For another, ‘the benefits of working with SPC are huge but I found it somewhat difficult to find work… on my return’.