Alumna tells Glendon gathering job openings ahead in Canadian Foreign Service

The Public Service Commission of Canada is expecting a 50 per cent attrition rate within the next five to 10 years leaving a huge vacuum that will have to be filled by new graduates, York alumna Renata Wielgosz (MA, ’82, PhD ’85) told a gathering at Glendon on Nov. 17. Canada’s ambassador to the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Cyprus, Wielgosz spoke about her career, as well as career opportunities and the hiring process in the Canadian Foreign Service.

This attrition rate will give graduates an opportunity to fast-track their careers, said Wielgosz, adding the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade Canada (DFAIT) is actively recruiting in anticipation of this trend.

Wielgosz joined what was then called the Department of External Affairs 27 years ago as a career foreign service officer in the political and economic stream. Working consistently for one employer while being able to explore many different opportunities and work in different places with different people has been a double benefit and a great advantage, she said.

Right: Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts (left) and Renata Wielgosz

In a bird’s-eye view of her career, Wielgosz demonstrated that much of what you get to do depends on timing. During her first posting in the Soviet Union in 1982, in the middle of the Cold War, the USSR’s minister of agriculture was Mikhail Gorbachev. As he was determined to improve agricultural practices in his country, Wielgosz’s first assignment was to put together a program for a two-week visit by Gorbachev to agricultural locations in Canada. It was rewarding to find out that much of what he learned on that trip was later implemented in his own country.

Wielgosz’s work experience embraces most parts of the world, including South America, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and now Greece and Cyprus. She was posted to India just after the Air India crash, which resulted in a great deal of diplomatic work at the embassy. Back in Ottawa from 1988 to 1991, she worked at the Poland-East Germany-Czechoslovakia desk over the period that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Solidarity movement in Poland and the breaking up of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. "These major transformations resulted in changes in treaties, new policies, decisions around recognizing the new countries and analyzing the new relationships."

"Working under liberals and conservatives presents different priorities and different ways of dealing with problems," said Wielgosz. She also talked about her first assignment at the United Nations General Assembly – a four-month posting in New York City – where she had the opportunity to meet a microcosm of all the countries and receive an interesting introduction to diplomacy.

"Serving in an embassy allows you to have experiences varying from the mundane, such as replacing lost passports or registering a Canadian child born abroad, to dealing with international emergencies. The work of the ambassador is similar to conducting a symphony orchestra. You have to make sure that everyone pulls together. And everything that the embassy does has an impact at home: on the job market, on cooperation with other countries and on key sectors of the economy," she said. "A posting abroad is typically a three- to four-year stint. The first year is an enormous learning curve, in the second year you are in gear, and the next year or two are needed to complete your assignments and wrap up."

She listed the most important skills for success in the foreign service as negotiating skills, working effectively in one-on-one situations, building multilateral relationships and learning how to fix them when they present problems. "As a foreign service officer, you have to be able to think on your feet and the Foreign Service Exam is a realistic test for these positions, as it poses hypothetical situations and assesses how you deal with them," Wielgosz said.

"After 27 years, I still get immense job satisfaction, as well as the chance to travel and experience great adventures. And it is especially motivating to work with committed, highly dedicated, outstanding people."

"Canada is celebrating 100 years of foreign service in 2009 and we have an illustrious record in the field of diplomacy," Wielgosz added. She cited some examples, such as Lester B. Pearson’s Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, the Ottawa convention of 1997 seeking to end the use of anti-personnel landmines worldwide, as well as participation in the 2006 evacuation of foreigners from Lebanon.

In today’s globalized world, DFAIT fills a wide variety of roles, including consultation, organization, finding partnerships and experts in various fields, alignment with policies and opening new world markets. "The Department of Foreign Affairs is Canada’s public face in the world and Canada is known for championing human rights and promoting peace," said Wielgosz.

She was hosted by Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts, who had been one of her professors when she was a student at York University. Her visit to Glendon was also a logical choice, given that the college’s vision includes preparing bilingual leaders and top-level public servants of the future.

More about Renata Wielgosz

Wielgosz’s postings abroad have included the Canadian mission to the United Nations in New York City, New Delhi, Prague in the Czech Republic, and the Canadian mission to the Organization of American States in Washington.

In Ottawa, Wielgosz has served as desk officer, first for the USSR, and subsequently for Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany in the USSR & Eastern Europe Relations Division; as departmental officer in the Office of the Minister of External Affairs (twice) and in the Management Secretariat; as desk officer for multilateral energy issues in the Energy & Environmental Division; as deputy director of the South America & Inter-American Affairs Division; and as director of the Inter-American Affairs Division.

She served as ambassador to Venezuela from 2005 to 2007. In 2007, she was named Canadian ambassador to the Hellenic Republic, and in October 2009 was accredited to the Republic of Cyprus.

Submitted by Marika Kemeny, Glendon communications officer