The Effectiveness of the Financial Services Administrator Trade in the Primary Reserves
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By WO Sarah Branje
Advanced Leadership Programme (ALP)
June 4, 2021
In 2016, the Canadian Armed Forces decided that the RMS Clerk trade would split into two separate trades, HRA and FSA. With the enormity of the tasks covered by the RMS Clerk trade, clerks could simply not be an expert at all facets of the job. Financial expertise, in particular, was fading as the “number of true finance positions (had) been significantly reduced, especially at the WO and above levels,” (Department of National Defence, 2013, p. D-3) and the RMS trade courses “fell short of teaching basic accounting principles, concepts of financial management, fundamentals of budget or business planning, amongst others, to junior personnel.” (Department of National Defence, 2013, p. D-4) The intent of the trade split was thus to allow personnel to specialize in either the human resources or the financial aspects of the job, and ensure that their technical skills were honed and retained. Ironically, what was meant as an attempt to save the Finance trade and its skill-set is instead leading to its demise, at least within the Reserves, as the inequitable distribution of positions during the split has caused a lack of full-time (Class B) FSA positions on the Reserve Establishment, which has in turn created issues for career progression, manning, retention, recruiting, and training.
Although the trade split has not been overly successful in either the Regular Force or Primary Reserves, this paper will focus on the impacts to the Primary Reserve, and how the trade split has diminished the effectiveness of the FSA trade within the Reserve Force. The aim of this paper is to take a reflexive, or “critical and systemic look” (Chief Warrant Officer Robert-Osside Profession of Arms Institute, 2020, p. 14) at the current state of the FSA trade to illustrate the reasons why it is currently not working, and to make recommendations as to what could, and should, be done to ensure the future success of the FSA occupation within the Reserve Force.
THE FSA TRADE WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF EFFECTIVENESS
“As they evolve and change, institutional leaders guide the profession in a way that ensures that it remains agile, adapting rapidly to changing requirements. The profession must be relevant, vibrant and effective.” (Department of National Defence, 2007, p. 22) Looking at the ‘profession’ of the CAF FSA within the Primary Reserve, the issues resulting from the trade split are having a detrimental impact on the effectiveness of the profession itself, and are being felt at both the Individual and Institutional levels. These impacts can be linked to two dimensions of the CF Effectiveness Framework: Member Well-being and Commitment and Internal Integration.
Leaders within the CAF have a responsibility to foster and protect Member Well-being and Commitment. At the Unit level, one of the roles associated with this is to “protect depth and continuity in teams and units by cultivating potential replacement leaders.” This is primarily done by “mentoring people in apprenticeship positions and challenging assignments.” (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 50) However, with the current construct of full-time (Class B) Reserve FSA positions there is little chance to mentor, educate, and develop subordinates. (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 48) Within the current full-time cadre of a typical Reserve Unit, the Sgt Fin Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) is the single full-time FSA, with no FSA supervisor (at the Unit) to educate and mentor them, and no subordinates of their own to develop.Footnote 1 Some are lucky to have a few Class A Junior FSAs, but in the 3-4 hours a week that they have together there is not ample time to properly educate and mentor these subordinates. From an internal integration perspective, this lack of time that Reserve FSA leaders have with any Class A FSAs under their supervision also means that they have a difficult time fulfilling their leadership responsibilities of team building, establishing standards and routines, and monitoring, inspecting, correcting, and evaluating their subordinates work. (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 48)
When it comes to leading the institution, the lack of Class B Reserve FSA positions at various rank levels has meant that there is little to no career progression within the trade, which negates one of the institutions best recognition and reward systems (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 48): promotion for those who excel at their jobs. Those who do get to the Sgt level have little chance to progress further as there is only one FSA WO position in the entire Brigade (at the HQ) and nothing higher. This obviously has a negative effect on Member Well-being and Commitment as the member’s career stagnates. With no depth in the FSA trade at the Unit level, the Sgt Fin NCO is often left covering not only their own duties, but also those that should be covered by Junior FSAs.Footnote 2 This puts a strain on the member’s work-life balance and is an inefficient use of their time and skills. In this way, the institution is also failing in its’ internal integration objective of “ensuring that various support systems of the organization function as a coordinated and integrated whole, while ensuring that the effectiveness and efficiency of all systems are periodically evaluated to determine their utility and efficiency.” (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 51)
The numerous issues that are currently plaguing the FSA trade within the Reserves are visually represented by the mind map at Annex A. Within the mind map each of the individual issues of staffing/manning, training, career progression, recruiting, and retention are shown as systems (and sub-systems) stemming off of the central topic of the FSA Trade post-trade split. Although each issue (or system) poses a problem in itself, the system-thinking approach requires looking at the inter-relationships of the systems. To show this, the systems have been linked together with green dotted lines when appropriate. For the purposes of this paper the focus will be on the main systems and sub-systems (illustrated in round shapes), with the ideas in square and diamond shapes left for those personally involved in the trade split who wish to delve deeper into any of the issues.
The staffing/manning issues stemming from the lack of established Class B FSA positions have a negative effect on career progression as those FSAs lucky enough to have a full-time job cannot get promoted without losing that employment. They also affect retention as personnel often look elsewhere for employment, such as a Component Transfer (CT) to the Regular Force where they could have opportunities for career progression. The marginal number of Class B positions at the Junior Rank level affect retention as there is no pool of trained, qualified FSA MCpl’s to draw from whenever an FSA Sgt position becomes vacant (often due to the aforementioned retention issues). Those vacant positions are instead often filled by out of trade personnel who do not come into the role with financial expertise and they must learn the skills purely through OJT as they cannot take formal FSA training. Staff burn-out is also a huge factor on retention as the one Class B FSA Sgt at each Unit is expected to complete all finance related duties on their own. Staffing/manning also affects training as the one Class B Sgt does not have time to adequately mentor any Class A FSAs that they may have, and if they are tasked as an incremental instructor on career courses it leaves their Unit with an obvious capability gap for the duration of the tasking.
On the flip side, training also affects staffing/manning as FSAs and HRAs now only complete training in their respective disciplines (vice the previous combined training of the RMS Clerk) making them less capable of covering off one another during absences. Training affects career progression as all members need to complete career courses in order to advance. But, the limited number of positions on career courses can mean that members may be waiting a long time for their next course, which causes retention issues.Footnote 3 Finally, the lack of Class B positions affects recruiting as the FSA trade is now not as enticing to future recruits who may be looking for full-time employment. Recruits must resign themselves to the fact that they will most likely not be employed in a full-time capacity until they reach the rank of Sgt, causing many potential recruits to look at joining the Regular Force instead where they can be offered full-time employment and a more positive outlook on career progression. With so few FSA positions at the Reserve Unit level, Class A or B, there is often not a huge push within Units to recruit FSAs in general. From this illustration it is evident that the lack of Class B FSA positions is the driving force behind the majority of the issues being felt, and is the main topic that needs to be addressed in order to make the FSA trade in the Reserves both more effective and sustainable.
FSAs lead people and the institution by both directly and indirectly influencing personnel to be fiscally responsible. They are tasked not only with maintaining the Unit/organization’s budget, but also with ensuring that all personnel (superior and subordinate) adhere to financial policy and procedure at all times. This is an extremely important facet of the trade as accuracy and transparency in the spending of public money helps the CAF to “maintain legitimacy in the eyes of Canadians and on the international stage.” (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 18) This requires FSAs that are skilled in both military finance and ‘Generally Accepted Accounting Principles’ (GAAP). Having properly trained FSAs also helps to manage the Unit’s “ethical risk” as their expertise should prevent inadvertent unethical or illegal behaviour such as “giving unfair advantage to contractors” or “wasting organizational assets” or funds. (Bradley and Tymchuk, 2013, p.8)
The changes to the organizational structure have also had an indirect influence on the trade itself as they have made “purposeful alterations in the task, group, system, institutional, or environmental conditions that affect behaviour and performance.” (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. 6) However, within the Reserves, the changes have not had the desired positive impact on the effectiveness of the finance trade. The inequitable split of full-time established positions between HRA and FSA is not in line with the Master Task Lists for each trade that essentially split the workload 50/50. (Department of National Defence, 2016, p. A1-12) These Master Task Lists are meant to directly influence the effectiveness of the trade as they “clarify individual and group roles and tasks” (Bentley and Walker, 2008, p. 342) but within the Primary Reserves the established full-time positions granted to each Unit do not mirror the ranks and/or positions required to accomplish all of the expected tasks.
In order for the FSA trade to grow and succeed we need to recruit and retain more FSAs by putting more emphasis on their training as well as their personal and professional growth. We need to be developing our future leaders, not just through formal career courses, but also through Unit/Brigade level coaching and mentoring. According to Lagacé-Roy (2008, p. 385), “by providing the appropriate mentoring relationship, leaders, as mentors, ensure that future leaders possess “capacities” that are needed for an effective organization.” However, one FSA Sgt trying to balance all of the financial roles and responsibilities of the Unit has little time to devote to coaching and mentoring any subordinates. Also, those subordinates, being part-time (Class A) soldiers usually only train for one evening a week (roughly three hours) and one weekend a month. This time is barely adequate to give general coaching on the more rudimentary FSA functions of a Pte/Cpl, let alone to mentor the subordinates on the breadth of the FSA trade and fully prepare them to one day take over as the full-time Sgt managing all aspects of financial stewardship for the Unit. For this reason, when a Class B Sgt position does become vacant, finding qualified FSA applicants who are interested in starting full-time employment at this late stage in their career is proving to be more and more difficult. Instead, the positions are often filled by out of trade personnel. We will continue to lose Sgt FSA’s for one reason or another but with no qualified MCpl, or even Cpl, FSAs to promote into those positions we are eventually going to be left with no actual FSAs filling these important finance positions within the Units, which weakens the chances of successful distributed leadership. (Department of National Defence, 2005, p. xii)
The primary intent of the RMS Clerk trade split was to retain the financial management expertise within the CAF. However, the systemic impact that the trade split has had on training, manning, career progression, expertise, recruiting and retention has shown that “doing the obvious thing will not always produce the obvious outcome.” (Department of National Defence, 2007, p. 31) As we have progressed through the trade split it has become evident that the uniqueness of the Reserves was not appropriately considered during the initial plans for the trade split which has greatly contributed to the issues that we are facing today. This was confirmed by then BGen Goodyear, ADM(Fin) Chief Financial Management, during an open discussion about the state of the trade split at the 2019-2020 Comptrollers’ Conference and Forum. In order to move forward we must correct this lack of consultation and seek feedback and opinions from Reserve FSAs at all levels who can help to identify the unintended effects that are currently being experienced. “CAF leadership doctrine states that the institution must be a learning organization, one that openly encourages the debate of new ideas, critically examines its successes and failures on an ongoing basis, and learns from experience.” (Bradley and Tymchuk, 2013, p.12) With a systems thinking approach in mind, we are now at the stage of the “feedback loop” (Department of National Defence, 2007, p. 33), where a more thorough cross-section of FSAs from each Component (Regular/Reserve), Element, and Division (down to the Unit level) need to be consulted on what is and is not working, in order to “compose the “right” membership” to appropriately shape change. (Walker, MacIntyre and Bentley, 2008, p. 507)
It is therefore recommended that before we progress any further down the path of the trade split, or attempt to make changes to the HRA and FSA trades, that the CAF solicit feedback from those most affected by this trade split – the HRAs and FSAs (both Regular Force and Reserve) at all levels that are living and breathing the resultant issues every day.Footnote 4 Consultation must be pan-CAF as the impacts may be felt differently amongst the Elements (Army, Navy, and Air Force), and from one location to another. It is also incredibly important that Reserve FSAs are given the opportunity to provide feedback on the FSA trade within the Reserves, as they are the ones with the first-hand knowledge of the intricacies of Reserve employment and the specific impact that the trade split has had on the Reserve formations. They also have a vested interest in seeing the FSA trade succeed in the Reserves as their continued employment depends on it. This feedback could be accomplished through a variety of means, such as surveys, forums, or working groups that can solicit information on what is not working as well as opinions or ideas on how to improve.Footnote 5 The feedback garnered from the HRAs and FSAs on the ground should then be used to shape the future of the trades, both Regular Force and Reserve. However, I propose that the following two scenarios are the ones that would best solve the issues faced by the Reserve FSAs today.
Since the majority of the issues being experienced by the Reserves stem from the lack of Class B FSA positions the obvious easy solution is to create more Class B positions. But, anyone that has ever worked for the Reserves knows that creating new positions is not the CAF’s typical approach. Instead, what is a more plausible solution is to do an Establishment Change (EC), which would see one of the three current Cpl/MCpl HRA positions found in a typical Reserve Orderly Room turned into a MCpl FSA position. This EC would help to correct the inequitable distribution of positions and workload that we have been experiencing since the trade split.Footnote 6
Having a full-time MCpl FSA position would also provide the possibility for proper coaching or mentoring between the FSA MCpl and Sgt, resulting in a pool of trained MCpl’s who are available and ready to take over a Sgt position whenever it becomes vacant. This possibility for career progression solves one of the major issues that we are facing in the FSA Reserve world, which then also aids in retention, as members do not need to CT to the Regular Force in order to progress in their careers, and helps in recruiting as the opportunity for full-time employment is enticing to many potential Reserve recruits.
This solution would create the desired aim of the trade split which was to ensure that financial expertise is maintained by having qualified FSAs filling the finance roles at Units. However, it will require the HRA side to be willing to give up one of their positions to FSA, which they may be hesitant to do. This solution would also see personnel remain too specialized as the new RQ Pte and RQ Sgt courses do not give members even general training on the other occupation.
“As the military’s organizational structure became more complex, specialization of function became a necessity”, but “that specialization tends to become overspecialization and works against commitment to the profession and substitutes for it a narrow commitment to one’s own area of special skill.” (Gabriel, 2007, p. 94) In the Administration trades, being overspecialized can be detrimental to the overall effectiveness of the Unit. Many HRA and FSA duties are intertwined at some level, so having at least moderate knowledge of both sides is a benefit to all. For example, in the Reserve world, roughly 75% of the annual budget that the FSAs manage is spent on Reserve Pay, but the administration of Pay now falls under the HRA trade. In order to fully understand the majority of the expenditures that they are managing, the FSAs need to, at minimum, possess a basic understanding of how pay is administered and why members are entitled to specific pay and allowances. They also need to have at least a working knowledge of the Reserve Pay System itself so that they can pull and interpret expenditure reports or investigate discrepancies in pay-related transactions in RPSR as required.
Therefore, the recommendation that would be most beneficial to the Reserves is to actually re-amalgamate the Junior Ranks back into RMS Clerks (or Administrators) and see personnel only specialize as either HRA or FSA at the Sgt Level. With this scenario, junior administrators get experience in both sides before deciding which to specialize in. This ensures that there will always be another person with at least a working knowledge of both the HRA and FSA duties in order to help out or cover off personnel in times of absence. If we continue with the specialization right from Pte we will soon have an entire Orderly Room (OR) full of personnel that cannot help each other to ensure that the OR remains effective during times of reduced manning.
Just as with the previous recommendation, this scenario would allow for proper coaching/mentoring to take place, although they could be coached by either HRA or FSA depending on which avenue the member is planning to specialize in. This also fixes the issue of career progression as there would be a pool of personnel available to apply for any Sgt HRA or FSA jobs that become vacant, and hopefully they have been trained through their coaching/mentoring to be ready to take over those next level duties. Any concerns over length of time required to adequately teach both the HRA and FSA duties in RQ level courses could be mitigated by capitalizing on virtual and/or distance learning, thereby reducing the amount of time spent away from home to attend courses.Footnote 7 In addition, some of the training could be done as an OJT package between the RQ Pte and RQ Sgt level courses.
The FSA trade in the Reserves in its current state is neither effective nor sustainable. Having to split a finite number of full-time established RMS Clerk positions into the HRA and FSA streams has left an inequitable delineation of duties, while also creating barriers to career progression in both trades and impacting retention and recruiting. In Reserve Units where there are a very limited number of full-time staff, the split has put a further strain on manning by decreasing the ability of administrators to cover each other’s tasks during periods of absence. Since we are only five years into the trade split the effects of this have not been fully realized, as the current senior personnel were all trained as RMS Clerks with at least a basic understanding of both the Human Resources and Finance realms. However, as we progress through the medium (Horizon 2) and into the longer term (Horizon 3) (Department of National Defence, 2007, p. 27) the effect is going to become more prevalent as the new FSAs coming up through the ranks will not be receiving any formal training on the HRA duties, and vice versa. The FSA trade within the Reserves has the potential to be both effective and sustainable, but changes are required to make that a reality. But, the time to act is now - the longer we progress down the current path the harder it is going to be to correct it.
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