The Fast Stream, the Emperor’s New Clothes, Experience, and Reassurance Watch

BrusselsorUK
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I have just logged on to this forum for the first time in five and a half years.

Back story: I am now old (mid-thirties). Once upon a time - a decade ago in fact - I first considered applying for the Civil Service Fast Stream and discovered this forum. In the event I didn’t apply that year as I had a lot going on in my life at that point. Autumn 2008 was the economic crisis; it was the end of a long-term relationship for me; I had an application in for a Masters degree which would have required me to move countries (I got this, and did move) and I generally wasn’t in the right space.

Fast forward four years and I had moved to another city. I had spent three years there and was realising at as my mid-twenties progressed to my late twenties that my chance of being a UK diplomat was getting slimmer, and if I ever wanted to be a Fast Streamer at an age-appropriate time I had to finally apply. I did so in autumn 2011 for the 2012 intake.

I used this forum and got to the assessment centre. I failed by a fraction of a point (16.50 as I remember, and I think the pass mark that year was 16.58).

I went through the process in 2012 for the 2013 intake, took into account the (helpful and comprehensive) feedback I received from the first assessment centre and did much better, getting over 18. I still failed the Diplomatic Service Board, but I figured I could work out how to get to the FCO/to a mission abroad once I got in.

I started in autumn 2013.

Five years have now passed.

The Fast Stream was an absolutely abysmal experience, and it has taken me a while to come to terms with this.

I now have, and I wanted to pass on some thoughts in case anyone else is in the same boat.

I should probably explain.

The programme I was on was slightly different to the scheme today. Inasmuch as the management has evolved slightly, some issues will have gone, and new ones will have arisen. The fundamentals will not have changed however. Indeed, a few keen observers may recognise familiar issues already set out in the Northcote Trevelyan report (https://www.civilservant.org.uk/libr...yan_Report.pdf) of 1854. Five or six years distance and a slight reorganisation of reporting lines will not have changed the experience too much. For this reason, I hope my experience may still prove useful.

I was on a specialist scheme focused on international work. As such I was departmentally-owned – the last of such Fast Streamers (the main scheme changed to the central model the year I began).

The department in which I was placed had habitually taken one Fast Streamer from this scheme in previous years. This year however it decided to have two. This was not because of a business need, or because more work was expected. Rather, the HR officer in charge of the decision in the department decided that since other equivalent-sized departments had two, mine should as well. This in hindsight was a first example of a later issue which came up frequently – the lack of evidence in making significant decisions, and of any rhyme or reason in HR and staffing questions.

I moved from where I had been working, arrived in London and took up my role.

No computer was waiting for me on my first day. No problem – I read some paperwork and looked to engage with the team. A computer was found after some days. I then looked for work.

Time passed. But work did not come.

The department in question had swelled from the mid-hundreds to well over a thousand staff in a very short space of time. It was massively over-resourced when I arrived. I was also double the Fast Stream resource the relevant team was used to having (from one to two; in a small-ish team, this makes a big difference). The other chap arrived six weeks before me, and – understandably – got the role and the work that the Fast Streamer habitually did.

I knew – as you doubtless do – that a good Fast Streamer takes the initiative and makes an opportunity, even where there appears to be nothing doing to do. So this is what I sought to do.

Over the course of the next eleven months (first postings were year-long then) I reported to no less than six line managers. Six managers. In one year.

I had moved countries and left a life to take this role.

I realised after a few months that all was not well, and that even if my team were kind, there was simply no work for me to do – there was no work for a lot of them to do. I therefore tried to transfer out of the department (recalling that I was departmentally owned).

Unfortunately, I was not the first to have this idea, and the HR lady overseeing the department’s Fast Streamers – the same person who had decided to bid for two Fast Streamers without actually seeing if there was work for them to do – had had something of an exodus of Fast Streamers from the department. Consequently, she wouldn’t sign off my application when my dream role came up.

This was a harsh – brutal, perhaps – introduction to a major issue in the civil service. Exactly the role I had wanted and for which I moved to the UK had become available. They wanted a Fast Streamer, and I had the skills and motivation to put together a credible and potentially competitive application. But I was blocked from putting my hat in the ring simply because someone else was embarrassed by the sheer number of Fast Streamers wanting out of the department she had a hand in overseeing.

This was one of the worst things I ever encountered in the Civil Service, but is a fact of life. You are not in control of your own destiny. If you are not happy in your current situation, you are not free to go elsewhere (in the civil service at least; I am working under the assumption that most people joining the Fast Stream are motivated by a desire to work for the public good and want to stay in the civil service universe – at least in the beginning). This is a pretty unfortunate situation when you think about it – if you are applying to go elsewhere, it may be for the best of reasons, but it may also be because you are unhappy or are not comfortable with those around you. And yet in the system as it is currently set up, those around you can stop you going elsewhere. And they very demonstrably may not have your best interests at heart.

I appealed the decision to the head of HR and got the decision overturned, but it was a challenging and unnecessary struggle. I didn’t get the dream job (a posting in exactly the country I wanted to be in), but I did succeed in getting a 12 month loan to an internationally-focused department.

This was better. Here, I had one manager, and I even had tasks to do. But still these tasks were not overly demanding. I could easily get my work done in 10-12 hours per week. Again, I knew a Fast Streamer should be dynamic and motivated and look for extra things to do – which I did. But there is a limit to how much you can create out of nothing.

I remember two anecdotes which summed up my time in the Civil Service. I was part of a team which had to create a business plan for a £20 million project which would provide much-needed services to very deserving people. I had to write two sections of the Plan out of a total of five. A grade 7 – who had been in the department for many years – had to write the other three. The Business Plan was to be 20 pages long, so judge how long it would take you to produce that.

We started at the end of September. I took a week and a half to research and write my 8 pages (roughly), looking at previous business plans, adapting them to the task we had, editing, redrafting and improving. My grade 7 co-writer took a different approach. October came and went. November came and went. Eventually, in mid-December, the project was taken out of her hands. The drafting of her three sections/12 pages was finished in an afternoon and evening by a grade 6 (who was good).

Three months had been wasted, for the want of a week’s work. The project’s recipients – deserving schoolchildren in a very poor environment – had missed out.

The second experience was with a guy who became something like a mentor. He was a grade 7 in his early 50s and had decades of experience. He introduced me to the phrase ‘Wanky Non-Job’ – or ‘WNJ’. He regarded his own role as a WNJ. Despite the fact that he was really good and wanted to add value, there was simply very little work for him to do. He felt that he had been sold the role under false pretences. He also felt that a good many of our colleagues had WNJs – and that these were not uncommon across the Civil Service.

As the end of the year approached I faced a dilemma. In theory I was supposed to go back to my home department. I very much did not want to do that. I applied for – and got – a role posted aboard in a challenging country. It wasn’t the dream country that I wanted, but it was something similar.

I called the role holder to have a chat about the role. For the first fifteen minutes we danced around each other and spoke in Civil Service buzzwords – development opportunity, competency examples etc. After a while she realised that I was from the same part of the country as she was. She slipped into dialect and asked if I wanted to know how it really was. I said of course. She said – to her eternal credit, and for which I will be constantly grateful – that the role was rubbish. The first six months were interesting from a touristy point of view, but after that the role was dull. As the lowest in the UK-based hierarchy, the role holder got the stuff everyone else didn’t want – horizontal tracking, filling in spreadsheets and so on. She hadn’t had an enjoyable time, or learned much in the two years she had been there.

This was a life-changing conversation for me (although she did not realise it). I decided only a fool would see all the evidence in front of him and continue to refuse what was perfectly plain. I took the decision not to go to the mission and to leave the Civil Service – initially on a career break. Four months into my career break, my home department (which as mentioned above had nigh-on doubled in size in the space of a few years and was massively over-staffed) announced a voluntary exit scheme. I applied for voluntary exit and got it. Two and half months salary isn’t much, but obviously better to have than not.

I left the civil service officially in early 2016. It is now late 2018. I have never for a second regretted it.

A few years later, and after ups and downs, I am now in a good organisation, working on policy, earning somewhere between a grade 6 and a grade 5 salary. I am not trying to show off – this is an anonymous forum after all, and I hope I am just about remaining anonymous – but I do want to show that there is life after Fast Stream – and the Civil Service.

Why am I writing?

In truth, I am not sure. Catharsis, perhaps. The experience was actually quite traumatic. I had turned my life upside down for the Fast Stream, and when it failed I was very taken aback. I had bought into the rhetoric that a Fast Streamer can and should be the master of their own destiny. When it didn’t go well, it is very hard not think ‘what am I doing wrong’?

If I were unversed in the ways of the Fast Stream I suspect I would read these lines and think, ‘he’s trying to exculpate himself; if he had no work to do he should have found some – the whole point of being a Fast Streamer is overcoming challenges and making things happen’. I thought this once too.

But the reality is very far from being so straightforward. Awful stories abound – the MOD colleague who was resented for taking time off (from the MOD!) to serve in the Army Reserve; random box three markings with no warning (full disclosure – I never got a box three, so am not resentful for this); very personal diversity data (think mental health history and sexuality of colleagues still mainly in the closet shared in confidence with HR) collected on an unprotected spreadsheet and accidentally circulated around the department – twice (this last example happened in my home department).

The truth of the Fast Stream for many people is as plain as the emperor’s new clothes. But the thing is, apart from the occasional oblique comment in the sidelines of Fast Stream training events, barely anyone talks about it. No-one wants to be that guy who is having a bad time and can’t seem to make the best of it.

If you will forgive me a Werther’s Original moment, back in my day there was a guru on here who wrote under the name of Prince Rhyus (or something very similar). She dispensed advice willingly and I found what she said to be spot on. I hope in writing this that I might serve a similar role for those coming after me, as she did.

If you are not having a good time, don’t worry. If it is not everything you dreamed it would be – or if your department is badly run, your management capricious, and your time feeling broadly wasted, don’t worry. Try to improve things. Talk to people. See if things can be made better. See if you can change. Don’t give up too soon – you’ll always wonder how things might have been if you do. But if after 12 or 18 or 24 or X (whatever the magic number is for you) things are not going well and you are not happy, not learning anything and not developing, that is OK – and it is OK to leave.

I wish at the time someone could have told be that it would be alright. That there are other policy jobs, other private and public sector organisations, and other ways of living the same dream. But there was nobody to say such things to me.

I want to be that person for someone else. If you are reading these lines and recognise the experience, it’s OK to feel as you feel. Life is long, and things do go up and down. The same skills and abilities that got you into the Fast Stream can get you through it, out of it, and beyond it. Not all the grass is greener, but there is plenty of grass that is.

And of course, for those who didn’t get on to the Fast Stream – don’t worry. There are many other ways of achieving the same – or even better – things in other ways or in other places.

I once wrote a message anticipating the future by referring to the class of 2013/14/15. It is strange that the first of those classes is now many several years in the past. The person who this message helps may be years down the line – if it helps anyone. But like Prince Rhyus, I wanted to share my experience and let someone, somewhere know how I felt, and that it is ok.

And like Prince Rhyus’ closing line, I think that is all I will say for the moment.

Good luck everybody.
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Vexper
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Nice write up BrusselsorUK

I'll be attending the FSAC soon and I feel it's really good to get a better view of what may come. Most of the marketing is akin to propaganda. Some of the existing fast streamer blog posts just seem to itch with the need to vent but they won't be able to get away with it.

The Civil Service in general is far from perfect, so the Fast Stream could never be an exception.

Can you highlight any alternatives to the Fast Stream that you current know of and have good repute?
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darkshadow1111
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Really good read. Thanks for the advice and inside info
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touchmaster
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Slightly bemused at the idea that someone in their mid-thirties considers themselves old to be honest, which slightly throws into doubt the judgement of the rest of the conclusions for me...
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BrusselsorUK
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(Original post by touchmaster)
Slightly bemused at the idea that someone in their mid-thirties considers themselves old to be honest, which slightly throws into doubt the judgement of the rest of the conclusions for me...
Hi touchmaster - I am happy to see that you generously consider mid-thirties not to be old. Long may youth continue!

My self-description might have been a little tongue-in-cheek - mid-thirties is far from the Saga Holidays period of life - but it is not quite the marketing demographic which jeans commercials are aimed at either.

I note this forum is entitled the student room, and the majority of its users will be uni (or college) students. At this age (and it is over a decade since I first came across the forum myself) I would have considered mid-thirties very much in the territory of ‘proper adult’.

Having now arrived here, I’m not so sure - it seems to be frank that most people are just winging life most of the time, and are just as confused now as they were as fresh-faced new arrivals. Looking ahead, I’m not sure those going through divorces in their forties or the second career people in their fifties have things figured out to any greater extent. Perhaps in truth this is what life is. Maybe we should take comfort in that.

As for my judgment, the post was intended as an entirely subjective report of my own experience, which may or may not provide reassurance or comfort to someone else, as Prince Rhyus’ Posts once helped me. Any reader can take from it what they will. If nothing else, I hope it points to the fact that there are a variety of experiences of the Fast stream, but not all viewpoints are equally comfortable to share in Fast Stream training events an dso not all are equally commonly heard.

As for other, similar schemes, I would advise (in addition to the Fast Stream) the Bank of England, the FCA and HM Treasury’s departmental equivalent scheme. These are similar, in the first two cases better paid and offer more agency to participants than the Fast Stream. They are also not mutually exclusive - going through the application process for one will not hurt you in another, and very likely will strengthen you as a candidate (applications, standardised tests and assessment centres - like everything else - get easier with practice).

Good luck to all, and I hope everyone finds their path - even if takes a little longer than one originally might have expected.
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Quady
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(Original post by BrusselsorUK)
I have just logged on to this forum for the first time in five and a half years.

Back story: I am now old (mid-thirties). Once upon a time - a decade ago in fact - I first considered applying for the Civil Service Fast Stream and discovered this forum. In the event I didn’t apply that year as I had a lot going on in my life at that point. Autumn 2008 was the economic crisis; it was the end of a long-term relationship for me; I had an application in for a Masters degree which would have required me to move countries (I got this, and did move) and I generally wasn’t in the right space.

Fast forward four years and I had moved to another city. I had spent three years there and was realising at as my mid-twenties progressed to my late twenties that my chance of being a UK diplomat was getting slimmer, and if I ever wanted to be a Fast Streamer at an age-appropriate time I had to finally apply. I did so in autumn 2011 for the 2012 intake.

I used this forum and got to the assessment centre. I failed by a fraction of a point (16.50 as I remember, and I think the pass mark that year was 16.58).

I went through the process in 2012 for the 2013 intake, took into account the (helpful and comprehensive) feedback I received from the first assessment centre and did much better, getting over 18. I still failed the Diplomatic Service Board, but I figured I could work out how to get to the FCO/to a mission abroad once I got in.

I started in autumn 2013.

Five years have now passed.

The Fast Stream was an absolutely abysmal experience, and it has taken me a while to come to terms with this.

I now have, and I wanted to pass on some thoughts in case anyone else is in the same boat.

I should probably explain.

The programme I was on was slightly different to the scheme today. Inasmuch as the management has evolved slightly, some issues will have gone, and new ones will have arisen. The fundamentals will not have changed however. Indeed, a few keen observers may recognise familiar issues already set out in the Northcote Trevelyan report (https://www.civilservant.org.uk/libr...yan_Report.pdf) of 1854. Five or six years distance and a slight reorganisation of reporting lines will not have changed the experience too much. For this reason, I hope my experience may still prove useful.

I was on a specialist scheme focused on international work. As such I was departmentally-owned – the last of such Fast Streamers (the main scheme changed to the central model the year I began).

The department in which I was placed had habitually taken one Fast Streamer from this scheme in previous years. This year however it decided to have two. This was not because of a business need, or because more work was expected. Rather, the HR officer in charge of the decision in the department decided that since other equivalent-sized departments had two, mine should as well. This in hindsight was a first example of a later issue which came up frequently – the lack of evidence in making significant decisions, and of any rhyme or reason in HR and staffing questions.

I moved from where I had been working, arrived in London and took up my role.

No computer was waiting for me on my first day. No problem – I read some paperwork and looked to engage with the team. A computer was found after some days. I then looked for work.

Time passed. But work did not come.

The department in question had swelled from the mid-hundreds to well over a thousand staff in a very short space of time. It was massively over-resourced when I arrived. I was also double the Fast Stream resource the relevant team was used to having (from one to two; in a small-ish team, this makes a big difference). The other chap arrived six weeks before me, and – understandably – got the role and the work that the Fast Streamer habitually did.

I knew – as you doubtless do – that a good Fast Streamer takes the initiative and makes an opportunity, even where there appears to be nothing doing to do. So this is what I sought to do.

Over the course of the next eleven months (first postings were year-long then) I reported to no less than six line managers. Six managers. In one year.

I had moved countries and left a life to take this role.

I realised after a few months that all was not well, and that even if my team were kind, there was simply no work for me to do – there was no work for a lot of them to do. I therefore tried to transfer out of the department (recalling that I was departmentally owned).

Unfortunately, I was not the first to have this idea, and the HR lady overseeing the department’s Fast Streamers – the same person who had decided to bid for two Fast Streamers without actually seeing if there was work for them to do – had had something of an exodus of Fast Streamers from the department. Consequently, she wouldn’t sign off my application when my dream role came up.

This was a harsh – brutal, perhaps – introduction to a major issue in the civil service. Exactly the role I had wanted and for which I moved to the UK had become available. They wanted a Fast Streamer, and I had the skills and motivation to put together a credible and potentially competitive application. But I was blocked from putting my hat in the ring simply because someone else was embarrassed by the sheer number of Fast Streamers wanting out of the department she had a hand in overseeing.

This was one of the worst things I ever encountered in the Civil Service, but is a fact of life. You are not in control of your own destiny. If you are not happy in your current situation, you are not free to go elsewhere (in the civil service at least; I am working under the assumption that most people joining the Fast Stream are motivated by a desire to work for the public good and want to stay in the civil service universe – at least in the beginning). This is a pretty unfortunate situation when you think about it – if you are applying to go elsewhere, it may be for the best of reasons, but it may also be because you are unhappy or are not comfortable with those around you. And yet in the system as it is currently set up, those around you can stop you going elsewhere. And they very demonstrably may not have your best interests at heart.

I appealed the decision to the head of HR and got the decision overturned, but it was a challenging and unnecessary struggle. I didn’t get the dream job (a posting in exactly the country I wanted to be in), but I did succeed in getting a 12 month loan to an internationally-focused department.

This was better. Here, I had one manager, and I even had tasks to do. But still these tasks were not overly demanding. I could easily get my work done in 10-12 hours per week. Again, I knew a Fast Streamer should be dynamic and motivated and look for extra things to do – which I did. But there is a limit to how much you can create out of nothing.

I remember two anecdotes which summed up my time in the Civil Service. I was part of a team which had to create a business plan for a £20 million project which would provide much-needed services to very deserving people. I had to write two sections of the Plan out of a total of five. A grade 7 – who had been in the department for many years – had to write the other three. The Business Plan was to be 20 pages long, so judge how long it would take you to produce that.

We started at the end of September. I took a week and a half to research and write my 8 pages (roughly), looking at previous business plans, adapting them to the task we had, editing, redrafting and improving. My grade 7 co-writer took a different approach. October came and went. November came and went. Eventually, in mid-December, the project was taken out of her hands. The drafting of her three sections/12 pages was finished in an afternoon and evening by a grade 6 (who was good).

Three months had been wasted, for the want of a week’s work. The project’s recipients – deserving schoolchildren in a very poor environment – had missed out.

The second experience was with a guy who became something like a mentor. He was a grade 7 in his early 50s and had decades of experience. He introduced me to the phrase ‘Wanky Non-Job’ – or ‘WNJ’. He regarded his own role as a WNJ. Despite the fact that he was really good and wanted to add value, there was simply very little work for him to do. He felt that he had been sold the role under false pretences. He also felt that a good many of our colleagues had WNJs – and that these were not uncommon across the Civil Service.

As the end of the year approached I faced a dilemma. In theory I was supposed to go back to my home department. I very much did not want to do that. I applied for – and got – a role posted aboard in a challenging country. It wasn’t the dream country that I wanted, but it was something similar.

I called the role holder to have a chat about the role. For the first fifteen minutes we danced around each other and spoke in Civil Service buzzwords – development opportunity, competency examples etc. After a while she realised that I was from the same part of the country as she was. She slipped into dialect and asked if I wanted to know how it really was. I said of course. She said – to her eternal credit, and for which I will be constantly grateful – that the role was rubbish. The first six months were interesting from a touristy point of view, but after that the role was dull. As the lowest in the UK-based hierarchy, the role holder got the stuff everyone else didn’t want – horizontal tracking, filling in spreadsheets and so on. She hadn’t had an enjoyable time, or learned much in the two years she had been there.

This was a life-changing conversation for me (although she did not realise it). I decided only a fool would see all the evidence in front of him and continue to refuse what was perfectly plain. I took the decision not to go to the mission and to leave the Civil Service – initially on a career break. Four months into my career break, my home department (which as mentioned above had nigh-on doubled in size in the space of a few years and was massively over-staffed) announced a voluntary exit scheme. I applied for voluntary exit and got it. Two and half months salary isn’t much, but obviously better to have than not.

I left the civil service officially in early 2016. It is now late 2018. I have never for a second regretted it.

A few years later, and after ups and downs, I am now in a good organisation, working on policy, earning somewhere between a grade 6 and a grade 5 salary. I am not trying to show off – this is an anonymous forum after all, and I hope I am just about remaining anonymous – but I do want to show that there is life after Fast Stream – and the Civil Service.

Why am I writing?

In truth, I am not sure. Catharsis, perhaps. The experience was actually quite traumatic. I had turned my life upside down for the Fast Stream, and when it failed I was very taken aback. I had bought into the rhetoric that a Fast Streamer can and should be the master of their own destiny. When it didn’t go well, it is very hard not think ‘what am I doing wrong’?

If I were unversed in the ways of the Fast Stream I suspect I would read these lines and think, ‘he’s trying to exculpate himself; if he had no work to do he should have found some – the whole point of being a Fast Streamer is overcoming challenges and making things happen’. I thought this once too.

But the reality is very far from being so straightforward. Awful stories abound – the MOD colleague who was resented for taking time off (from the MOD!) to serve in the Army Reserve; random box three markings with no warning (full disclosure – I never got a box three, so am not resentful for this); very personal diversity data (think mental health history and sexuality of colleagues still mainly in the closet shared in confidence with HR) collected on an unprotected spreadsheet and accidentally circulated around the department – twice (this last example happened in my home department).

The truth of the Fast Stream for many people is as plain as the emperor’s new clothes. But the thing is, apart from the occasional oblique comment in the sidelines of Fast Stream training events, barely anyone talks about it. No-one wants to be that guy who is having a bad time and can’t seem to make the best of it.

If you will forgive me a Werther’s Original moment, back in my day there was a guru on here who wrote under the name of Prince Rhyus (or something very similar). She dispensed advice willingly and I found what she said to be spot on. I hope in writing this that I might serve a similar role for those coming after me, as she did.

If you are not having a good time, don’t worry. If it is not everything you dreamed it would be – or if your department is badly run, your management capricious, and your time feeling broadly wasted, don’t worry. Try to improve things. Talk to people. See if things can be made better. See if you can change. Don’t give up too soon – you’ll always wonder how things might have been if you do. But if after 12 or 18 or 24 or X (whatever the magic number is for you) things are not going well and you are not happy, not learning anything and not developing, that is OK – and it is OK to leave.

I wish at the time someone could have told be that it would be alright. That there are other policy jobs, other private and public sector organisations, and other ways of living the same dream. But there was nobody to say such things to me.

I want to be that person for someone else. If you are reading these lines and recognise the experience, it’s OK to feel as you feel. Life is long, and things do go up and down. The same skills and abilities that got you into the Fast Stream can get you through it, out of it, and beyond it. Not all the grass is greener, but there is plenty of grass that is.

And of course, for those who didn’t get on to the Fast Stream – don’t worry. There are many other ways of achieving the same – or even better – things in other ways or in other places.

I once wrote a message anticipating the future by referring to the class of 2013/14/15. It is strange that the first of those classes is now many several years in the past. The person who this message helps may be years down the line – if it helps anyone. But like Prince Rhyus, I wanted to share my experience and let someone, somewhere know how I felt, and that it is ok.

And like Prince Rhyus’ closing line, I think that is all I will say for the moment.

Good luck everybody.
So you accepted the job with the intention of moving to the FCO and a sexy overseas post. I accepted my offer at DWP and had no such expectations. I ended up doing a year at the FCO as a G7.

Shizz happens.

That I think is your point although it's somewhat drowned out by the cathartic navel gazing.

I too found it tough going, a decade on and as a grade 6 with a fiancee I wouldn't have met had it not been for the fast steam my view on it has changed. It opened a set of doors, even though at the time I felt too many were closed.

In other news Prince Rhyus was a guy.
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piupiupiupiu
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I started off reading this expecting to be very defensive (I am a first year fast-streamer) - thinking 'yeah but you're just one person, there are lots of different schemes, blablabla'

However, your experience is very similar to mine and to that of other Fast Streamers I know. It is also similar to experiences of final year and just-finished Fast Streamers that I spoke to at the induction.

A lot of the placements just don't seem to have enough work...:

- Some managers forget that they have a Fast Streamer starting until they show up on the day - I've heard at least 3 occurrences of this (not statistically significant but to be honest I'd expect it to be zero)
- I finish most of my work by about 3pm / 4pm every day and have to 'find' things to do
- This can make you feel guilty, like you aren't proactive enough because you aren't busy all the time
- When I started, my manager thought I was the grade below what I am. She had to create a whole new role for me to match the FS grade
- I've known people cry because they just feel useless

Don't get me wrong, some of the experience so far has been positive as well and I don't think it's impossible that my whole experience could turn out to be a positive one. But the points OP has raised are incredibly familiar to me. I would encourage people to apply for the Fast Stream, but it's useful to know about the downsides - it is usually not glamourous - it is working in offices, at the end of the day, and it has pros and cons. Just useful to be aware of.
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piupiupiupiu
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PS Can I just say to counterbalance OP's post and my response - one of the big benefits I've noticed on the Fast Stream (and it can make you feel a bit guilty) is that you get put forward for ANY opportunity that comes up in the office, over non-FSers. For example I've been on training courses for senior managers, tons of shadowing, put forward for extra responsibilities - over people in the office with more experience, all because 'it's a Fast Streamer'.

It doesn't stop you getting bored sometimes but as a normal Civil Servant it can be difficult to access all the opportunities that crop up - at least on the Fast Stream that kind of thing is easy
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