Stated objectives: ‘pilot’ Junior Professionals Programme (JPP) (long read)

On the occasion of the launching of the call for expressions of interest (21.03.2022) for the NINTH [9th] ‘pilot’[1] Junior Professionals Programme (JPP) we take the opportunity to look at the stated objectives of this ‘pilot’ programme.

First some context. We start with the figures. The Commission has around 32281 staff in total (DG HR, 2021 Key Figures). ‘Pilot’ JPP1-8 have produced some 200 junior professionals so far (normally 25 per edition (June/December)) and there have been two corresponding internal competitions (COM/AD/01/20 and COM/AD/02/21) to recruit a total of 125 officials.

Now onto the timeline. The very first junior professionals (June 2018-June 2020) could participate in COM/AD/01/20 (60 candidate-reserve list)). Those on that reserve list were available for recruitment as officials from June 2021 and will reach 2 years of seniority (and so be promotable to AD6) in 2023.

HR has evaluated only ‘pilot’ JPP1-5 so far: it considers them successful[2] and recommends that the ‘pilot’ programme continue until it can be made permanent[3]. We are unable to find any information on any follow-up evaluations or reports (whether regular or one-off). Unfortunately, the ‘pilot’ JPP objectives as set out in that report are so vague that they cannot be used for any meaningful evaluation of the success or failure of the ‘pilot’ programme. There are no concrete figures or targets attached to the objectives: no key performance indicators (KPIs), no timelines and no benchmarks to enable assessment on whether these ‘pilot’ programmes are meeting their stated objectives. There are also no published figures available on European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) recruits and ‘pilot’ JPP recruits (i.e. those passing the internal exams and being recruited as AD officials) to facilitate any reasonable comparison of any kind (talent, age, gender, skills or otherwise). In short, we have no way of knowing whether the staff recruited via the ‘pilot’ JPP are any different from staff recruited by traditional (EPSO) means. There were few real changes between ‘pilot’ JPPs[4] and differing accounts of who were considered stakeholders[5]. Many of the issues raised in the comments below the first ‘pilot’ JPP launch in 2018 are still relevant and still unaddressed, suggesting that staff were perhaps not stakeholders after all.

What is the (pilot) programme intended to do? (we quote verbatim from the report)

‘The main objectives of the pilot programme … are: (1) diversifying sources for recruiting highly talented staff (II) contributing to a balanced mix of staff in terms of gender, age, skills and nationalities (III) equipping participants with a better understanding of the Commission and with the necessary knowledge and skills needed by the Institution (IV) developing a European and Commission spirit among participants and (V) modernising recruitment at the Commission.’ (p.3 JPP Evaluation Report)

1. diversifying sources for recruiting highly talented staff

If EPSO, the DG charged with this mission is not delivering what the Commission requires why not modify EPSO itself instead of bypassing it?

‘EPSO – the matchmaker between aspiring talent and EU institutions … EPSO’s core mission is to meet the EU institutions’ recruitment needs by selecting talented candidates through generalist and specialist competitions. In carrying out this goal, EPSO acts as a trusted matchmaker between the EU institutions and high performing professionals and graduates. It thus contributes to the building of the current and future European civil service.’ (EPSO’s mission, vision, operating principles and values)

EPSO is already addressing the recruitment of generalists/junior staff: ‘The current form of the EPSO planning process was introduced in the EPSO Development Plan (EDP), which was adopted in 2008. The EDP introduced annual competitions cycles for three staff profiles: generalist administrators (mainly designed to recruit junior staff, and targeted at young university graduates with little or no professional experience), assistants (AST and [secretaries and clerks] AST/SC function groups), and linguists. (Paragraph 22, ECA Special Report 23/2020).’

So, what talent is being recruited via the ‘pilot’ JPP that is not being found via EPSO?

2. contributing to a balanced mix of staff in terms of gender, age, skills and nationalities

a. gender

Again, we have no published figures on new recruits (whether they were recruited via EPSO or via ‘pilot’ JPPs and internal competition) so we can make no detailed comparison. For this reason we look only at the figures relating to junior professionals. JPP1-5 delivered 64 men and 62 women[6], all of whom have the opportunity to participate in internal exams to become AD officials. Women outnumber men in AD grades AD5-AD8[7], there is no great rebalance in evidence here via the JPP1-5 with its delivery of almost equal numbers of male and female AD5s.

The AD function group is indeed the only one where men outnumber women[8] but those men disproportionately occupy the AD9-16 posts. This issue is being addressed by dedicated action e.g. the Female Talent Development Programme, the DG HR Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 (40% of management positions occupied by women) and President von der Leyen’s 2019 unconditional political commitment[9]. Passively, the situation is also readjusting on its own over time[10]. Again, there is no great gender rebalance in evidence here via the JPP1-5 with its delivery of almost equal numbers of male and female potential AD5 officials.

Please note also that women outnumber men in all other function groups. We are unaware of any special programme to recruit more men to these roles. Please let us know if you have seen such an initiative!

b. age

Junior professionals are generally younger than EPSO-recruited ADs[11], as is to be expected of anyone participating in any type of traineeship. There are so very few members of staff (across all function groups and categories) under the age of 30 among our 32281 staff (DG HR, 2021 Key Figures) that having an additional 43 staff under 30 years old is considered a notable achievement:

‘New talent acquisition initiatives such as the Junior Professionals Programme help to reinforce the influx of younger staff: in 2020, the number of staff younger than 30 years has increased to 948, compared to 905 the previous year.’ (p.88 DG HR, General Report on the activities of Human Resources and Security, HR in  2020).

Let’s clarify how the JPP might fit with the count of staff under 30. The first junior professionals to pass an internal exam appeared on a 60-name reserve list in June 2021. So any contribution of the JPP to the 2020 HR statistics for 2020 would be as 150 temporary agents (TAs) (JPP1-6: 25 x 6 = 150). So perhaps even ‘pilot’ JPPs are not recruiting many staff under 30 years old. The age-of-staff problem appears to be strongly connected to a larger problem with attractivity in general. So, the issue is bigger than EPSO and bigger than the (pilot) programme that bypasses it[12].

If bringing down the average age[13] of staff were really the purpose, why not also target extensions of service?

  • ‘133 extensions of service above the age of 65 in 2020’ (p.36 Human Resources in 2020)
  • ‘81 extensions of service above the age of 65 in 2019’ (p.39 Human Resources in 2019)
  • ‘nearly 70 extensions to carry on working beyond the normal retirement age’ (p.29 HR in 2015)

But, maybe this is a super-long-term plan? Potentially those younger staff will spend more of their working life at the Commission and so reach the higher grades, right? Yes, this is indeed a (very) long-term possibility, but given that promotion is ostensibly based on an institution-wide comparison of ‘merits’[14] those ADs recruited via the JPP might find themselves competing against colleagues in the same grade who have greater responsibility[15] and substantially more professional experience[16]. EPSO-recruited ADs might potentially be out-performing JPP-recruited ADs in terms of merit and responsibility. Are JPP-recruited colleagues then condemned to a slower-than-average promotion speed ?[17]

c. skills

If you hire newcomers without any substantial professional experience, you are obviously aiming to get generalists. In contrast, the Commission is having difficulty recruiting specialists: ‘competitions run by EPSO broadly enabled the institutions to meet their needs for recruits with generalist profiles but … they proved less efficient and effective for recruiting specialists’ (ECA Special Report 23/2020). In other words, the JPP is a solution in search of a problem: EPSO already provides the generalists the institutions need, so what is the purpose of the JPP? Unless of course somebody specifically wants to hire a person fresh from university without ensuring first this person succeeds in one of our rather fierce competitions. We can only wonder why DG HR might want to avoid a level playing field for these chosen few …

d. nationalities

The JPP report shows that JPP1-5 reproduces the existing issue of over- and under-representation of certain nationalities: Romania and Bulgaria are below their guiding rate set while Greece and Italy are above that rate (JPP Evaluation Report (p.22)). The Court of Auditors already highlighted this as an issue:

‘We found that the pattern of under- and over-representation is not consistent among grades. Some countries are over-represented in the lower AST grades (Romania and Bulgaria), while other are over-represented in the higher AD grades (most noticeably Sweden, Finland, Greece and Italy)’. (Paragraph 72, ECA Special Report 23/2020)

So junior professionals are unlikely to contribute greatly to a readjustment of nationalities in the AD function group.

2. equipping participants with a better understanding of the Commission and with the necessary knowledge and skills needed by the Institution

Part of the EPSO test used to be ‘A series of multiple-choice questions to assess your knowledge of the European Union, its institutions, and its policies.’ (EPSO/AST/99/09) and it is still tested, albeit in a different format (How is EU knowledge and motivation tested?). Again, if EPSO is not delivering what is required, why not rework it instead of bypassing it?

3. developing a European and Commission spirit among participants and

This is a very difficult one to measure and if you cannot measure it, how do you know whether it’s present, missing, improving or declining? Again, if EPSO is not delivering what is required, why not rework it instead of bypassing it? While mentioning spirit, consider team spirit. Consider those two ADs at the same grade from earlier (2b). There is the potential for frustration, resentment and a poor team spirit when the very limited promotions are distributed. Will the colleague with the greater responsibility[15] and professional experience be rewarded or the perceived additional ‘European spirit’ of the other? Note that ‘European spirit’ is not one of the promotion criteria.

4. modernising recruitment at the Commission.

If EPSO is not delivering what is required, why not modernise it instead of bypassing it?

So, what are your thoughts on the ‘pilot’ JPP? Who are the winners and losers from this programme? What do you see happening when it becomes permanent? How will this affect staff morale? There is a clear lack of transparency and the declared objectives are of little use. How would you measure its success? We are still working on our collective action on these internal competitions and share the Central Staff Committee opinion on this topic.

‘With the implementation of the seventh edition of the Junior Professionals Programme (JPP) in 2021, a programme has effectively become a permanent recruitment mechanism that is still referred to as a pilot project. And although the JPP outwardly aims to recruit temporary staff, it is de facto a tool for recruiting permanent staff, thereby undermining the legally enshrined rights of staff to participate equally in the selection of new colleagues.’ (Central Staff Committee, 06.10.2021)

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[1] We use inverted commas for ‘pilot’ throughout this article to show that, while the name suggests that the programme is still in a trial phase, there is very little testing in evidence and few changes or modifications between editions. Also HR has already decided to make the ‘pilot’ JPP permanent (October 2020) rendering any further trials (JPP6-9 and further) in no sense tests.

[2] ‘The overall results of the consultations and the data collected since the launch of the programme [JPP1-5] confirm that the pilot has been largely successful and that its objectives have been achieved. A consensus emerged in the focus group of stakeholders that the programme should be continued. 81% of respondents to the stakeholders’ survey also expressed their views that the programme should be continued as part of the Commission’s recruitment toolbox.

As a result of the thorough selection process, the programme attracts and selects excellent candidates, including those from underrepresented nationalities in the Commission staff … DG HR recommends the establishment of the programme on a permanent basis… In order for this process to take place, it is proposed to continue the programme as a pilot pending adoption of a Commission decision establishing the JPP as a permanent programme.’ (p.47, Evaluation Report Pilot programme Junior Professionals 2018-2020, October 2020).

[3] ‘DG HR recommends the establishment of the programme on a permanent basis, and the continuation of the programme as a pilot, pending adoption of a Commission decision on JPP.’ (p.5, JPP Evaluation Report, October 2020)

[4] All we can find is ostensibly opening the programme to more staff in October 2020 (JPP6). Original list: ‘Blue Book trainee, contract agent function group IV, temporary agent or official in function group administrator (AD)’. (p.3, JPP Evaluation Report) updated to ‘officials and temporary agents [TAs] in function groups AST and AST/SC, and to contract agents [CAs] in function groups I, II and III.’ (Au Quotidien, 29.10.2020). There are also vague references to modifications without specifying which pilot JJP specifically or when: ‘improved Learning & Development programme and organising computer-based testing for candidates before preselection by DGs’ (p.28 DG HR, General Report on the activities of Human Resources and Security, HR in  2020)

[5] There seem to be discrepancies on who stakeholders are. They were ‘junior professionals (JPs), HR Business correspondents and Account Management Centres…, Selection panel members and observers (staff representatives)…, Heads of unit and supervisors…, Project sponsors: Commission managers…’(p.11, JPP Evaluation Report) but subsequently ‘staff, DGs and staff representatives’ (Au Quotidien, MyIntracomm 29.10.2020).

[6] p.20, Evaluation Report

[7] p.25, ECA Special report no 15/2019

[8] October 2021 Statistical bulletin

[9] ‘… by the end of our mandate, we will have gender equality at all levels of management – for the first time. This will change the face of the Commission’. (Plenary 27 November 2019).

[10] ‘… there was a significant decrease in male AD13 staff numbers between 2013 and 2018, mainly due to demographic factors. The staff concerned generally joined the Commission in the 1980s-1990s and are now at or near retirement age.’ (Paragraph 34, ECA Special report no 15/2019)

‘We found that, despite the recent increase in the number of women in the AD function group, and the appointment of more women to management positions, men still occupy most posts in the highest grades. However, since women now make up the majority of junior AD staff, the share of women in higher grades and senior management positions should be expected to increase over time.’ (Paragraph 36, ECA Special report no 15/2019)

[11] ‘The average age of the JP [junior professional] is approximately 27 years old … In comparison, the entry age of AD officials and temporary agents [TAs] in 2019 was 39 years old.’ (p.21, JPP Evaluation Report)

[12] ‘There are indications that the EU Careers brand has not been successful in attracting a sufficient number of graduates or young professionals to an EU career. Applicants to AD5 competitions (the most junior grade for graduate administrators) often have professional experience, and the proportion of candidates under the age of 35 is decreasing. This is particularly striking for some focus countries: for one of them, in 2018, half of the applicants to the AD5 competitions were older than 35. This was also visible in our survey of managers about their recent recruitment experience, which indicated that 22 % of recently recruited administrator officials were younger than 35. 62 % were over 40, which makes it likely that they already had at least 10 years of professional experience when they joined the institutions, more than what is usually required for the grades of the competitions.’ (Paragraph 35, ECA Special Report 23/2020)

[13] ‘On 1 January 2020 [average age] stood at 42 for contract staff and at 40 for temporary staff, compared to an average age of 50 for officials.’ (p.101, Human Resources in 2019)

[14] There are three criteria: appraisal reports since the last promotion (or since recruitment), use of languages at work, and level of responsibilities exercised.

[15] ‘In addition, discrepancies between grade and level of responsibility exist among officials. Experienced professionals in junior grades (AD6 to AD8) may be assigned greater responsibility than higher graded staff recruited before them.’ (Paragraph 62, ECA Special report no 15/2019)

‘…62 % [of recently recruited administrator officials] were over 40, which makes it likely that they already had at least 10 years of professional experience when they joined the institutions, more than what is usually required for the grades of the competitions.’ (Paragraph 35, ECA Special Report 23/2020)

[16] They might even be assistants (ASTs) who have gone through certification.

[17] JPP1 June 2018-June 2020. The first internal competition (COM/AD/01/20) laureates were recruited in June 2021. Those recruited before 31 December 2021 will achieve the minimum of 2 years of seniority required to be eligible for promotion in 2023 and so could be included in the 2024 promotion exercise.

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