01 November 2011

The Apprentice #nlpoli

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganization; and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.''

It’s a great quote even if it has been misattributed to a raft of people, including someone named Petronius Arbiter who lived so long ago that some people can’t even agree on whether or not he was a Roman or a Greek.

But the quote is still appropriate, especially if you look at the provincial government.

Remember how in an earlier post, your humble e-scribbler noted that last weeks second Dunderdale cabinet was a lot less than it was cracked up to be?

Well, in the Tuesday Telegram Joan Burke gave an amazing insight into just exactly how the Tories came to create this new department Burke is running. Be warned before you go read the whole thing that it is a puff piece of the first order, but do read the whole piece just because of what it tells you about how the current administration functions.

At its core, Burke said the shift is about apprentices, skilled trades and filling the jobs of the future.

“The whole apprenticeship issue has become more and more complicated,” Burke said.

“We have 6,000 apprentices registered in the province, so where are they? You know, we should be well underway of filling all the labour gaps.”

On the very first full day of the election campaign this fall, Premier Kathy Dunderdale promised to do more about apprentices.

At the time she called it a “bottleneck” in the skilled trades process.

It was the apprenticeship issue, primarily, that drove the marriage between Education and HRLE, Burke said.

A single issue led the government to create a whole new department that consumes not only the university but also the entire government apparatus designed to deliver income support to thousands of residents of the province.

Now it is by no means a trivial matter, but sorting out a problem with apprentices is no reason to create a whole new department.  That’s the sort of issue that comes up all the time in government.  What happens?  Well, usually someone gets told to sort it out.  Could be a deputy minister or it could be a cabinet minister or a group of cabinet ministers.

As for the labour shortage, that’s an old issue.  The report mentioned in the article actually just gives the latest description of a problem that’s been identified for a decade or more. 

Again, it’s not a problem that needs a whole new department to figure out.  If the schools that train skilled trades workers haven’t been doing their job in meeting known market demands, a new department won’t fix that.  This is the sort of stuff they are already supposed to be doing. 

And if they aren’t doing it, then that seems to be a high-end management problem:

  • People who are supposed to decide things apparently aren’t deciding., or,
  • There’s a problem getting word out about decisions, or,
  • People who are supposed to decide things farther down the food chain are too frightened to take decisions, or,
  • They are so pre-occupied with chasing their tails that they can’t get on with the job of governing.

Creating this new department is starting to look more like a sign of the underlying problem than an answer to it.  This is, after all, a government that can’t seem to get its capital works done, that has legislation laying about unfinished and that seems to have a chronic problem managing more than one issue at a time.

Re-organizing makes it look like something is going on when it actually isn’t.

- srbp -