How to Ruin A Rural Weekend: Reading More of the Comprehensive Agency Assessment

Up in Columbia County, I settled into a wicker rocking chair on our screen porch overlooking a valley of pine trees, and in the distance the rolling Berkshires hills, and instead of doing something useful like organizing the socks in my sock drawer, I dipped once again into the 204 pages of Assessments and Recommendations slapped together by that Gang of Six consultants the Peace Corps hired:  Maryann, Megan, Ken, Jean, Diana, and Carlos!

I wanted to see what they had to say about Recruitment and Selection that they titled (page 105) IMPROVING THE RECRUITMENT AND SELECTION PROCESS TO ATTRACT A WIDE DIVERSITY OF HIGHLY AND APPROPRIATEDLY SKILLED VOLUNTEERS.

Their descriptions of the ‘process,’ summing up, and recommendations for 25 pages and says virtually nothing. For example:

Recommendation VI- 3: The assessment team recommends that the Office of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection develop a new recruitment strategy that has an integrated diversity recruitment component. The new recruitment strategy should focus on recruiting individuals with limited work experience but who have the personal attributes and non-technical skills necessary to be successful Peace Corps Volunteers.

Hello?

They got paid good money for this utterly useless bullshit! They call that a recommendation?

Look at what Bob Gale told the Senior Staff, all those Mad Men and Mad Women back in 1963, after Shriver asked for new ideas and Gale listened to all the “naïve, ill-informed, even disastrous” ideas floating round the conference table on the 5thfloor of the Maiatico Building. 

Off the top of his head, Gale said, “I’d send in some kind of team, not just one person. I’d send in senior staff. I’d send in famous names. I’ d made a big thing of it. I’d get the college administrators and the faculty fully on my side, get them involved. I’d alert the campus newspaper and the campus radio station. I’d try to co-opt office space in the Student Union-that’s where a lot of the action is at a big university.”

Now those are recommendations on how to recruit on college campuses.

And now, near 50 years later, the ‘new’ Best and the Brightest that the Peace Corps Director hired with big buck to come up with a comprehensive Agency Assessment, have only this dribble:  The assessment team recommends that the Office of Volunteer Recruitment and Selection develop a new recruitment strategy that has an integrated diversity recruitment component.

Com’on gals and guys, get off your collective asses and say something. Put meat on the bones of your ‘recommendations’… Or as Walter Mondale famously asked, “Where’s the beef?”

I hope that the Gang of Six ran to the bank and cashed their consultant money before the IG asked for an accounting.

First of all with regard to Recruiting, you are riding the tide of the times. Just as the Republicans can use the unemployment numbers to get back control of Congress, the Peace Corps can brag about their high number of Applications because of the economy. College grads can’t find work, young professionals are getting whacked in the job market, teachers aren’t being rehired. It’s a golden age for Peace Corps Recruitment. Everyone wants to get out of America and two years, and Peace Corps service will look great on resumes once these kids come home from the Third World, now with global experience, and an improved economy.

But the worm will turn and getting Apps won’t be like picking apples off the trees in the days ahead.

What then?

Well, here are some real recommendations that details what can be done for Recruitment and Selection. They’re yours for the taking, and I invite other RPCVs  to come forward with your ideas, not that Peace Corps/HQ ever listened to what RPCVs had to say.

Recruitment

  • Close the Regional Recruitment Offices and move Recruitment back to D.C. This will save money and involved HQ in recruitment.
  • Make the Internet as the only way to apply to be a Volunteer. This will the streamline the process.
  • Focus attention and dollars on social media outlines. Place ads where college students surf, not magazines or newspapers.
  • Give monthly $$$ awards for the best essay that comes in from an Applicant. Post the essay on the site.
  • Add blogs to peacecorps.gov. The Director should blog at least twice a week. He needs to become a personality, not a bureaucrat. Blog about his own Peace Corps; blog about who comes to see him in D.C., and what he hears from the field. Get CD directors and PCVs to blog about what is happening todayin their host country. Get HCNs to blog on the site about the Peace Corps in their country. Let them – let everyone – give the pros and cons of volunteer service.
  • Get rid of the ‘official’ photograph of the Director that dominates the site. It makes Aaron look as if he runs a funeral home and not head of an vital volunteer organization that is working hard in the developing world. We need photos of  Aaron Williams in the 
    Third World, with PCVs, withHCNs. We need photos of him as a Volunteer. Personalize the guy. Get him on television. Get him on t.v. Hire Matt Losak (Lesotho 1985-88) and he’ll make it happen.
  • RPCVs have proven time and again that they are the best recruiters. Hire RPCV college professors and other local RPCVs to recruit. Train them, pay them a % for the skilled Volunteers that join because of them.
  • Make joining the Peace Corps special. Today, the outstanding college grads want to part of Teach For America, not the Peace Corps. We are seen as ‘old fashioned,’ out of date, history. Form a relationship with Teach For America, help them help us!
  • Do joint advertising with AARP. The head of AARP once worked for the Peace Corps. Talk to him about seniors in the Peace Corps. Reinvent Yourself at 50…Be a Volunteers. It is what you always dreamed of doing? This sort of message. 
  • Make official arrangements with Teachers Unions that they give sabbaticals to their faculty members who join the Peace Corps. It will enhance the reputation of the local school district and bring back into the classroom teachers with new experiences and skills.

Selection

  • Post the specific position on line so that the Applicant who is applying knows: 1) the country; 2) the starting date; skills required. For example:

            Water and Sanitation Extension Volunteer: Niger

           One year experience in construction, masonry, carpentry or plumbing, or BA/BS in any subject area with an interest in hygiene education /sanitation and an interest in hands-on skilled work as demonstrated by 3 months or more relevant work or volunteer experience in one of the following areas: mechanical repairs, construction, carpentry, set design, Habitat for Humanity, home repair and/or remodeling. Departure Date: 7/21/2010.

Links to the Peace Corps pages sites about the country-of-assignment, background details, history. Educate the Applicant before they apply for the position.

  • Get rid of the Office of Selection. Turn the process over to the Desk Officer and the field. Give the Regions the authority to select PCVs, to bid on them against other Regions, to make their case to the Applicants why being a PCV in X country is better than what Y has to offer.
  • Place the Regions (and the desk officers) in competition with each other, not the Applicants in competition with each other.
  • We say: “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love!” Well, let’s present it to Applicants as a real job overseas. If you want “skilled” and ‘professional” PCVs, then treat them that way.

These are a few recommendations, suggestions. They are more than that toothless-tiger ideas offered by the consultants hired by the agency.

What do you suggest? Post your ideas in the comment section.

11 Comments

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  • Great suggestions, John. I recommend structural changes to the Peace Corps. There are two ( of many) institutionalized problems with Peace Corps. One is that the financial sacrifice required to join the Peace Corps is a barrier to participation for identifiable groups. (Teach for America pays a salary and provides training to obtain a portable teaching certificate). The second problem is the dearth of “skilled” Volunteers. Public Health Service and the military provides college training in medical fields to qualified people and in exchange, the graduates owe that service a certain number of years. Peace Corps could do exactly the same thing, expanding the careers to include education and engineering. Training could be ongoing during summers and language acquisition could stretch over a more realistic time.

    I think that the early years of Peace Corps became an agency in amber, a shrine to Kennedy/Shriver. It is now just an sad shadow of what it might have become.

  • Excellent suggestions John. To get the message across and span the generations I suggest a salsa driven recruitment video that features Harry Belafonte and the Colombian sensation Shakira.

  • Some good ones, John especially about personalizing the peacecorps.gov website. Some questions and observations, though (and I hope you’ll respond): That one about getting rid of Placement altogether was batted around when we worked together, I think. I was in the Region when It was floated to overseas staff. The APCDs, already overworked to the bone and on whom the selection responsibility would fall, were almost unanimously against it. Either they had a point or the idea wasn’t sold properly.

    And where does medical qualification fit into any new selection process? When would the posts get to fight over the candidates? (Pre- or post- med qualification?) How much job info does the applicant get prior to medical qualification? OMS processing has always, always been the fly in the ointment for every streamlining scheme. Medical says they’ve worked hard to make that part of applying to the Peace Corps shorter and less stressful, but there is always a bottom-line counter-argument: Workman’s comp is one of the Peace Corps’ biggest expenses.

    Thoughts?

    PS to other readers: sorry for the bureaucratese.

  • Ralph–I do remember the discussions on having the Regions handle selection. My feeling is that the staff at the HC level needs to ‘buy into selection of their Vols’ and with the Internet, I think we have the opportunity to make it happen.

    Medical is a problem. I’d contract it ‘out’ and we would get quicker and better results.

    It is always a problem with older Vols, takes longer to quality. I think the red flags have to be change, giving more people more opportunities to serve. This ‘medical’ issues needs to be looked at again.

    It goes back to the first days when the ‘men’ were afraid ‘our’ women couldn’t have babies overseas in the developing world.

    Workman’s comp is an issue, but it has mostly to do with shrink problems, not physical problems, as I recall.

    Still crazy after all these years!

  • Peace Corps could have done itself a favor and hired one consultant: John Coyne. Maybe they would have saved a little money, too.

  • The next presidential election is just a Volunteer service cycle away – 27 months. If the Republicans win that election, there will be 30 or so vacancies in “decision-making” positions on January 20th, 2013. People applying now for Peace Corps may finish their service under an entirely different administration, organization, and philosophy than the one created by Williams.

    Could you all describe how this timeframe might impact the suggestion that Regions be more involved with selecting their volunteers or that there be competition for volunteers? Building a volunteer contingent in one Region or Country based on the personal selection of the HC staff doesn’t seem possible given this reality, but that is just my amateur perspective.

    During the 60s, even though the “In, Up and Out’ policy was adopted in late 1965, there was some staff continuity beyond the five year limit. Johnson allowed Shriver to split his time between OEO and the Peace Corps for almost two years. Johnson did not “purge” the Peace Corps to create positions for his own people. I felt as if the previous discussion, began in the sixties and continues, here, but relates to conditions, then not now. Again, that is just how it seems to me.

    I believe that Peace Corps must now follow the mandates in the American Disability Act.

    The assessment is in many ways an historical document because it describes how the last ten years have impacted the Peace Corps. Wouldn’t it be great is such an assessment were done at the end of each Director’s term?

  • In order to fill the consultants recommendation, “The new recruitment strategy should focus on recruiting individuals with limited work experience but who have the personal attributes and non-technical skills necessary to be successful Peace Corps Volunteers,” the monthly termination payment should equal the current average state unemployement benefit!!!

    Back to basics..the Peace Corps is for those that seek it, can commit to it ( no early outs because you don’t like it!), and persist at the application process!!!

  • Concetta Anne Bencivenga—has to say!

    So, as a group, we are slightly disposed to like things in 3s a la the 3 goals of Peace Corps. But really there are only 2 things that run the entire recruitment and selection process:

    1) You can only go where someone is requesting a skill that you possess

    2) You can only serve where you are medically qualified to serve. And btw- Peace Corps as a Federal Agency does comply with ADA.

    Here is what I would do (and I’m throwing in something I DID do when I was a recruiter)-

    1) The notion that the application has to be one single document is a holdover from the era of paper applications. I would split up the APPLICATION into (yes, you guessed it) 3 parts.

    Part 1 Basic info, eligibility, education, background check. That’s IT.

    Part 2- Applicant goes out and gets a medical check-up through a regional medical facility that has staff trained and vetted to perform thorough enough exams to determine both whether and where a person can serve as a volunteer.

    Part 3- NOW based on where the person is medically ELIGIBLE to serve their skills are matched to an appropriate opening and they are nominated for a training class. Recommendations, final evaluation, and any final issues resolved and off they go.

    I’m telling you it COULD work.

    As for getting Colleges and Universities interested- when I was in NYRO we developed a session that we gave all over the region to career centers where we basically got together a bunch of folks and played “Go Fish” for volunteers. It highlighted the antiquated notions that some people had of Peace Corps and also really expanded the universe of students for whom Peace Corps would be a good fit or, at the very least, an option to be discussed during career counseling. Just do that and you’ll elevate the profile of the agency and opportunities.

    Check for consulting services can be made to C-O-N-C-….. you get the idea.

    Concetta Anne Bencivenga

  • Concetta, that med qualification scheme is brilliant! I can hear OMS moaning over losing its power, but this would seem to remove an age-old stumbling block on the road to an invitation. You must have floated this idea. What happened? Just platitudes or some actual reasons why it would never work?

  • Peace Corps should follow the lead of AmeriCorps*. For some years they have been using on-line recruiting. Applicants can apply on line, and they can be linked to approved sponsors of AmeriCorps* and AmeriCorps*VISTA projects. The Peace Corps variation on this theme would be to allow whoever places members in specific projects to enter the system and skim the best and the brightest, just like the good old days! Someone could also enter the system and screne out those who do not qualify and let them know poste haste so that they do not sit around waiting for a call/e-mail.

    As for ADA, I am already there and wouldn’t be allowed to serve, but there are challanged individuals that should be recruited. Remember the blind PCV in Micronesia who applied the local navigational tool to teaching braile? The locals used crowey shells tied to grids of sticks in order to map the location of surrounding islands that could not be seen beyond the horizon. He, like any challanged PCV would also serve as an example for a host country’s similarly challanged to pursue a full fuller, read normal, life.

  • Sorry for the delay, but John suggested that I post the following that I wrote at the end of last month:

    Shriver was also about community service, with Peace as the hook.. In 1989, Shriver testified on the proposed National Service legislation at the time. He noted that there were 8 different bills being proposed; however, he asked: why create a new program, just expand VISTA.

    Of course, it took Clinton to get the National Service legislation through in ’94. From that time on, the white house national service folks spent their time putting down VISTA and those of us who served as VISTAs or in the Peace Corps. As the president of the Union at CNCS, I attended a meeting with reps from the former White Office on National Service who wanted to lecture us on the “culture of service.” I and my wife had both been RPCVs, the Union VP had also served in Ethiopia and had married another volunteer in that project (she taught in the comercial school near your (John’s) home in Addis, in the last project before PC pulled out following the 1974 coup. The Chief Steward had served in Afghanistan and married an RPCV who had served some years later in Honduras. To say the least, we wondered why they had to lecture us about service. Our point was that we served for altruistic reasons, not because their was an education voucher worth $4,750 per year at the end of service.

    And we proved them right: The three national service programs that they set up were the Community Conservation Corps, AmeriCorp* and CNCS put that label on VISTA. They also began to call AmeriCorp* the domestic Peace Corps, taking it away from the early days of VISTA.

    As all of this evolved, I saw that the CCC was really for youth that were looking for direction, some of whom had lost their way, and were looking for something different in a group setting at one of the five campuses. AmeriCorps* became a sort of groupee organization at the local level, with the bulk of the funds flowing through state commissions on national service that were obviously politicized and depended on the commissioners’ program choses that resulted in the programs for the members. A small number of national grants were let to national organizations for the balance of the AmeriCorps* funds under the National AmeriCorps* office.

    My one experience with a national grant was a breakdancing group. They used my daughter’s church for weekly practice and periodic exhibitions drawing nationwide talent. They never paid the rent as promised, or shared their gate receipts with the church. I also found that the AmeriCorps* member assigned to the project had a job, which of course, is not allowed for VISTA service.

    On the other hand, VISTA became the paragon of national service with the the CCC and AmeriCorps* members admiring them for their rugged individualism. Harris Wofford, who was appointed by Clinton as the second director of CNCS quickly recognized that VISTA was the only program that could put out an RFP, receive and review applications, and award funds within months of new program directions, e.g., the Entrepreneur Corps that I mannaged for VISTA from 2002-6, when I retired, along with the retirement of the Corps.

    This is a long way of saying that the Peace Corps today wants to put a stamp on things that reflect current/sold as future think, with little regard to what has already been done.

    Again, it should all be focused on the Volunteer: everything else will fall into place.

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