Tanner Day at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs: A Change in Public Service

The Great Recession wiped out 320,000 government jobs, and a decade later, it has changed the face of public service. David Sulek, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, believes young people have different reasons for entering public service today.

“There’s a lot more sense of purpose-driven initiatives with millennials and the generation following behind them, and that spirit is at the core of what they believe,” he said.

Sulek was speaking on a panel called “A Public Service Workforce for the Future,” part of Syracuse University’s Tanner Day event at The Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. This day-long event included a series of lectures and panels focused on the “Future of Citizenship and Public Service” in partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration. Governor Christine Todd Whitman spoke about ethics, citizenship, and public responsibility during the keynote address.

Sulek said members of newer generations tend to dismiss institutions and instead gravitate toward networks where groups of people can come together to solve problems. As a result, the younger workforce looks at the importance of building a network and gravitates toward people from different sectors so they can all work toward a common goal in the name of public service.

The panelists said those who want to make a difference, whether it’s in the private or public sector, need to broaden their perspectives and communication skills and have a clear vision for their goals.

How does the private sector affect civil discourse?

Now more than ever, the private and public sectors need to work together—it’s critical for civil discourse and policy, said Andrew Maxwell, the founder and former director of the Mayor’s Office of Innovation at Syracuse City Hall.

The private sector can aid government agencies operating under limited resources. Consultants in the private sector, like Sulek, offer specialized expertise to help agencies meet their goals.

Bringing in experts from other fields is important because, as Sulek said, it is impossible for the government to solve all its problems by itself.

“As a consultant I can help build that bridge to help understand culture and perspective,” he said.

But, perhaps more importantly, people entering the workforce today want multiple experiences. Sulek noted that almost 50 percent of the people he hires out of graduate school leave the private sector to work in the public sector.

They bring a wide array of experiences before working for the government and have a better understanding of how the government works because of their time as a consultant. That experience enables them to become an even bigger asset in government work because they understand the environment and go into the job with realistic expectations.

Maxwell said cross-sector employees are highly valuable and can empower institutions. But he believes younger generations need to commit to a greater sense of public service and to what it means to engage in civic life.

How does one break out of the traditional silo?

Tina Nabatchi, a Maxwell professor who teaches in the Department of Public Administration and International Affairs, believes that interdisciplinary studies will be critical for anyone who wants to work in fields with public service. Broadening and understanding a worldview outside of one’s own specialized area will only help further advance goals to help society.

“We can’t think about solving transportation issues without talking to engineers, or solving a health crisis without talking to people in public health,” Nabatchi said. “The bigger challenge with institutions is: How do we create opportunities for interdisciplinary learning? As instructors, how do we build that into our courses?”

Recently, the Maxwell school offered a course taught by an engineering professor with a focus on infrastructure on private and public partnerships. The course was open to engineering students, as well as students focused on management techniques and students focused on policy techniques.

Nabatchi said the students had a hard time communicating with each other at first because their areas of study, communication styles, and use of terminology were so different. However, she noted that once students gained a better understanding of each other through open discussion, the class was really successful.

These interdisciplinary skills are critical to success as a consultant, according to Sulek, because having a wide breadth of knowledge to serve his clients more effectively allows him to help government agencies reach their goals.

Indeed, the public and private sectors complement each other. But this can only be realized through partnership and collaboration.

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