Trading places: Civil servants recount their experiences in public-private talent exchanges
Talent exchange programs—which enable agencies to deploy civil servants to the private sector, to host private sector employees on detail or both—can bolster the federal workforce and enable it to adapt to the vanguard of the private sector.
In a recently released report, “Trading Places: The Benefits, Challenges and Potential of Public-Private Talent Exchanges,” the Partnership for Public Service and EY spoke with two civilian employees of the Navy. They participated in the Defense Department’s Public-Private Talent Exchange, which has facilitated more than 30 exchanges since the program launched in 2019. Both employees cited professional development as the biggest benefit of their six-month experience working in the private sector.
“It’s probably the single most career-changing experience that the Navy has afforded me, and I have been really appreciative of that,” said Emily Nash, the Navy Surface Warfare Center’s chief of staff.
“I liked what I was doing. I was learning a lot about subject matter that I had no background in but was maturing very quickly along the learning curve.”
“It was a big pivot point in my career and kind of opened my eyes … seeing the good and the bad and being able to bring that back,” echoed Meghan Chu, a deputy director at the Naval Supply Systems Command.
Chu credits her detail—during which the COVID-19 pandemic began—for learning what soon became an invaluable skill. “They really taught me how to run a remote team,” she said.
According to Chu, this preparation enabled her to thrive as a leader when she returned to DOD even though the agency was not fully prepared for remote work. “I actually started running a new team, having never even met most of those people face to face, and I credit all of that to my [exchange] experience.”
Nash and Chu, however, also encountered challenges when on deployment to the private sector.
Chu said it can be difficult to acclimate to a firmly established company culture, especially during a short exchange. One of the biggest challenges of a public-to-private exchange, she explained, is getting up to speed on a host company’s priorities, processes, practices and work culture in short order. It’s a question, she said, “of how to bring on people without going through the full onboarding process.” With little time to fully assimilate into and build peer trust at a host company, Chu continued, “you’re probably not equipped to perform work at your level [there] in a six-month period.”
Nash, meanwhile, spoke to the benefit of experiencing new challenges at her company. “My biggest challenge was saying no to the level of work that they were requesting. I was getting deeper and deeper, and gaining more experience and taking more of a role on the team there,” she said.
“For me the greatest challenge, but also [the greatest] benefit [of the exchange] was that I got to dig in deep.”
Though different, these two experiences in DOD’s Public-Private Talent Exchange speak to the value of exchange programs for the federal workforce. Whether agencies are looking to foster professional development, build relationships with the private sector or provide a dynamic experience for employees, talent exchanges represent an exciting opportunity for the federal workforce.