By Ian Wayne

On a chilly February afternoon we were sitting around a large oval table in nervous anticipation.

Jack Layton sat at one end and the president of the Chiefs of Police professional association sat in the other end. They were discussing an upcoming vote on changes to Canada’s gun laws — specifically laws around the registration of long guns.

Around the table were the police government relations people, policy officers, an issue manager from the leader’s office, and a consultant from an Ottawa lobbying firm.

Each person had a different role and responsibility — and hours of preparation and negotiations had already taken place before the meeting even began.

The policy officers for the party and the association were experts on the subject and had useful background research at their fingertips to help inform the discussion.

The issue manager had reviewed the policy materials, discussed the issue with key stakeholders and MPs, and developed a strategic approach to the issue.

The association’s government relations person managed the association’s relationships with the government and the political parties on the Hill.

The lobbyist used their connections to work the phones and make the arrangements for this meeting, alongside dozens of other ones for the association as part of their lobbying efforts.

And for each of these professionals, years of study, training and work experience had preceded them ever even getting the job that put them in the room that day.

The skills I learned in school I was later able to apply on a practical level while navigating a successful political strategy for my Member of Parliament; and helping the communication team craft just the right question in Question Period for the leader; and contributing to a policy programme for negotiations with the Liberals around forming a coalition government; and providing professional support for Jack Layton after his cancer diagnosis; and managing the media shop as well as reporting on our daily successes and failures to the senior campaign team during the 2011 election.

Being in the room where it happened on those and so many other days have become highlights for me both personally and professionally.

And while being leader isn’t an entry level position, using your skills and training to make a difference through elected office, as former professor Jack Layton did, is a career path well worth considering. For Jack, his first step was starting an advocacy group on housing issues in North York.

As a graduate of a political science program, you now have years of analysis and critical thinking under your belt. You are potentially a very valuable commodity professionally, in many interesting fields.

Now you just need to pick up the phone, draft an email, knock on a door and go take your first steps into a larger world. Go meet with a government relations professional to pick their brain. Or go become active in a political party and engage party activists and leaders. Or go volunteer at an NGO and start showing your skills. Or go intern in an MPs office and start networking. Or go start a political blog and let your analysis shine.

You stand on the cusp of an opportunity to not only become a useful member of a professional team, but also quite possible begin something that may become the most professionally rewarding thing you ever do.

Ian Wayne has worked for decades as a political professional, including as the federal NDP’s Director of Issues Management, Deputy Director of Strategic Communications, Coordinator of Question Period and Executive Assistant to the late Jack Layton.