Help Wanted: Building the Next-Generation Workforce

We talked to young pros about whether they'd want to work in government, then gave that feedback to state CIOs. Here's what they had to say.

by / July/August 2017

Government CIOs across the board are being forced to confront the retirement wave that’s about to decimate their ranks. But does the next generation of IT pros want the jobs their parents and grandparentsare leaving behind? We took to the streets of Sacramento, Calif., to ask young tech talents poised to take over the workforce whether theywould go to work for government. Here’s a sampling of what they said:

"There is something that is very patriotic to me about civil service. What is incredibly frustrating is that civil service seems to be stuck in the ’60s and ’70s in terms of its policies. The company I work for is 500 miles away, but I can do the exact same work as if I was sitting at that desk." 

"Public systems, in technology specifically, are a little bit slower; it’s kind of behind. Having to go into the government sector means I have to go back 10 years, and that’s a learning curve."
 
"I get the impression that I could go to Google, throw out an idea and they’ll actually listen to it and maybe even vet it out and examine it, whereas the government, not so much.
"

We took this feedback to state CIOs gathered in Virginia in late April for the NASCIO Midyear Conference for their reaction. Most agreed that government has some work to do in changing the perceptions and realities of tech work in the public sector. But some responded with the aspects of government work that may draw in a younger workforce:

"I certainly can understand why those perceptions exist and that’s the perception of government — if you saw the movie Zootopia recently, you saw the sloth at the DMV, and that is the perception of what we do at state government. I’d like to think that we’re different. We look at some of the things that we’re pushing the envelope on, and I think we are both working with the private sector and understanding technologies that are coming out, and we’re right up there in lockstep with them." — Mike Hussey, CIO, Utah

"I think what we do have for them is a kick-ass mission. It’s basically public service at the ultimate level, and it makes a difference in peoples’ lives. In civil service, we don’t really work for money because they don’t pay us much, but we do get to make a difference." — Paul Sandlin, Deputy CIO, Maine

Indiana CIO Dewand Neely. Photo by David Kidd.

"It’s easy to say those things, but the more people that we get on the inside speaking the same message, the faster we’re going to change and make those things happen in state government. So I would say it’s OK to feel like that — go ahead and bring it in and get into state government and find those like-minded individuals like yourself and create a broader voice and help to push those changes because they will eventually happen. … I tell folks, 'Just give me a shot, give me one or two years and if nothing else, you’re going to get to touch some big systems, you’re going to learn a lot of great things that you can take anywhere you want.' Then hopefully within that time frame I can change their minds and get them to stay. — Dewand Neely, CIO, Indiana

"I think working for government is cool. It’s the only place where I think you get the breadth of experience that no one else can offer, just in the types of things that you can work on. I work on things from social services programs to driver’s license to unemployment to agriculture branding applications." — Brenda Berlin, Deputy CIO, Colorado

"We’re working with some of the most modern technology that’s out there. So if you come work with us, you’re working with mobile-enabled platforms, you’re working with commercial cloud, you’re working with infrastructure as code, you’re working with the most up-to-date infrastructure from a networking or compute standpoint. So yeah, we do still have mainframe and other things like that, but we’re at the other end of the spectrum as well." — James Collins, CIO, Delaware


Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes. Photo by David Kidd.

"I think that perception is out there, but if you come and give government a chance to let us show you, you’ll see that we are being innovative in trying to improve our interaction with the public and providing the services that we’re now used to in the private sector. We’ve been able to do some very interesting things and do them quickly, but to the individual in this space who wants to come in and work in an area and accomplish something: We have the ability to move you around between agencies so you can experience many different things and take your skills and actually truly make a difference." —
Calvin Rhodes, CIO, Georgia