Expertise on Loan (part 2)

Split screen of Rob Clemens and Kariym Smith

The Department of Defense Public-Private Talent Exchange (PPTE) offers participants professional development opportunities to expand their functional expertise and acquire the new skills and knowledge critical to innovation. In 2020, The PPTE provided NIB with two DOD employees who helped to develop a new service line of business.

Rob Clemens, who served in the Marine Corps and now fills a civilian role at Marine Corps Systems Command as a senior program analyst, signed up for the PPTE program believing exposure to the best practices of private business would enhance his leadership and managerial skills. He was attracted to National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and AbilityOne, he says, because the mission “resonated with my personal values of serving others and improving an individual’s quality of life.”

Kariym Smith, who joined the PPTE program because he had worked as a civilian for DOD since graduating college, appreciated the opportunity to work in the private sector without having to officially leave his DOD career.

Clemens and Smith used NIB’s contract closeout services model to conduct market research, write job descriptions, and assess the viability of jobs as program and finance analysts for people who are blind or visually impaired. They reported their results to NIB President and CEO Kevin Lynch, who gave them the go-ahead to move the project into the pilot program phase, targeting partnerships with the armed forces, says Clemens.

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t cut their PPTE experience short — Clemens and Smith completed their project and the pilot is set to launch — but it did compel them, like so many others, to switch to remote work.

Because NIB has employees located in various states, the two found the transition easy. NIB had already implemented technology for virtual interactions, so when the pandemic happened, both men were equipped to make the transition to 100% telework.

NIB Director of Enterprise Risk Management Harlan Erker, a 15-year employee of NIB who is visually impaired, also found his participation in the PPTE program at the Acquisition Directorate of DOD’s Washington Headquarters Service (WHS) impacted by the pandemic.

Erker joined WHS the in early January 2020, and set to work conducting a cultural assessment of the organization from a private-sector perspective. While there, he observed daily operations and employee interactions, and interviewed DOD employees to learn how they viewed the organization’s culture, what was working, and what could be improved, with an eye toward increasing the employee retention rate.

Although the assignment was intended to last six months, after the pandemic hit, all WHS personnel went to full-time remote status and Erker could not continue the assessment. “It’s hard to get a sense of an organization’s culture when all employees are teleworking and interaction is strictly electronic,” he noted.

Although his last day with DOD was in early April 2020, Erker did submit a report with recommendations based on the work completed pre-COVID-19.

Clemens and Smith say the experience was amazing and they achieved their goals of acquiring new perspectives and best practices to further their professional development. Both recommend the program to others, as does NIB.

Click here to learn more about the DOD Public-Private Talent Exchange.