No single agency has solved the problem of how to replace retiring baby boomers in the government workforce, but two information technology professionals insisted to an audience of their peers that the next generation of dedicated, innovative IT staffers is just a click away.
Daniel Wyskochil, a business process analyst in IT at the village of Schaumburg, Ill., and Ramnath Cidambi, chief information officer of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission, offered a series of frank takes and out-of-the-box suggestions for how to create tomorrow's IT workforce, during the Chicago Digital Government Summit May 9.
Neither had ever contemplated a career in government IT, they said during their panel. A millennial himself, Wyskochil offered fond memories of growing up in the village where he now works but said from his early private-sector vantage point, Schaumburg IT reminded him of the “old ladies” at city hall who sold him a parking permit as a young adult.
“I had no idea there was an IT department. I had no idea there was a basement and some people down there doing some really cool stuff,” he said.
Cidambi’s career path took him from United Airlines to Monster Jobs on short stints that were part of a “two-year mentality,” he said, before he found his current position at an organization he had never heard of before. The CIO called it a “blessing.”
Both Wyskochil and Cidambi strongly urged listeners to look past traditional and automated hiring practices that may discard good resumes, to find their next workforce — with Cidambi going so far as to tell those assembled that “it’s OK to make bad hires.”
“It’s part of the game, right? Some will work, some will not. And there’s always bad hires we’ve all made," he said.
To prevent that from happening, and find the best IT people, he and Wyskochil offered a series of strategies aimed at finding and attracting younger, potentially unorthodox talent:
Emphasize service over profit. One reason Wyskochil said he left the private sector was the feeling of not contributing or being part of something larger than himself. “That was important, to bridge that gap in my mind that, ‘These people do things that matter.’ That the end results of their daily work can positively or negatively impact their daily lives,” he said.
Be accepting of nontraditional career paths and short tenures. Cidambi said he himself was guilty of having short stays at previous jobs, but said that’s not always an indication of how a candidate will perform. Neither was coming from an alternative profession, he added, pointing to a correctional officer who’d wanted to become a data scientist. “Probably it’s the best hire I’ve made in a long time,” he said. “She has turned out to be a great data scientist.”
Offer flexibility and remote schedules. Developing apps and software is challenging, mind-bending work and agencies can offset their traditionally lower pay scales by offering the ability to work remote one day a week, work a four-day, 10-hour day schedule, or have flexible schedules. Having the chance to work “four 10s,” Wyskochil said, gave him three-day weekends with his family all summer, a huge improvement in work-life balance.
Partner with universities and community collaboratives. Reaching out to area partners can be a great way to find new staffers, Cidambi said, without the private sector's deep-pockets approach.
Give the right challenge to the right group. Not every employee appreciates an unfamiliar task every day, but younger workers may like the variety and opportunity to do work that goes beyond a run-of-the-mill “ask,” Wyskochil said. Conversely, older employees with more traditional skillsets may perform better on mainframe.
Advertise your position the right way. Community colleges and universities aren’t just breeding grounds for tomorrow’s technologists, they’re also great places to publicize the job you’re seeking to fill. And, like the job websites Indeed and Dice, they’re more likely to be visited by young techies than an agency website, Cidambi said.
Be transparent. Realizing your new public-sector salary may be public record can be refreshing to millennial applicants, given an agency's clear connection to residents. “The transparency was a huge benefit to the type of work we were doing. And the biggest thing was probably the ability to influence change,” Wyskochil said.
Find those boomers. It may not be soon, but someday, mainframe will be gone. Until then, consider rehiring some of those retiring baby boomers with the COBOL-era skillsets your agency needs part-time, Cidambi said.
Editor's note: This article was corrected to reflect Ramnath Cidambi's professional experience.
Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.