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5 Ways Governments Can Attract and Retain Tech Talent

New federal funding means state and local governments will have more digital infrastructure to support than ever. Investing in staff technology skills and finding creative ways to attract new hires are essential.

One overlooked aspect of 2021’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates nearly $100 billion toward improving digital infrastructure, is how it will be affected by the nation’s strained tech talent market. With provisions for expanded broadband networks, electric vehicle charging stations and cybersecurity, the law reflects the culmination of bipartisan federal interest in improving digital stewardship — but it will be up to state and local governments to implement the programs necessary to ensure meaningful policy execution. As the operators of most infrastructure projects, state and local governments will need to hire more workers with digital skills to fulfill the new infrastructure initiatives.

That could prove a tall order. The competition for the best and brightest tech talent is fierce, and as digital skills have become more valuable, state and local leaders have struggled to recruit this talent and compete with the private sector. Today’s labor shortage compounds the challenges the government faces in winning the race for talent.

Government leaders need to think creatively to fill the roles needed to support digital infrastructure updates and systems. To expand their pool of tech talent to set themselves up for success with new infrastructure projects, local and state officials and CIOs can start with the following strategies:

1. Upskill your existing workforce

Nearly two-thirds of managers doubt their employees can keep up with future skill needs as technology rapidly evolves, and 70 percent of workers say they haven’t kept up with the skills needed for their existing roles. Meanwhile, nearly half of workers report employers scaling back learning opportunities during the pandemic. Consider allocating funds toward team members’ retraining and upskilling by either creating a new training structure or working with outside skilling programs.

But choosing not to upskill can have severe consequences. Even with the tremendous evolution of state and local governments to provide core products and services digitally, many still fall behind. The pandemic revealed many of these shortcomings, such as when New Jersey’s government went into panic mode as its systems, which were built on a 40-year-old COBOL-based mainframe, were quickly overwhelmed by unemployment applications during the pandemic. This problem would’ve been mitigated by either keeping employees with a working knowledge of COBOL or investing in digital transformation to maintain and update these systems.

2. Embrace an agile project mindset, especially with employees

Agile project management, such as focusing on frequent value delivery and constant feedback implementation, leads to increased efficiency and better performance of projects. As the method has grown in popularity, companies have realized it’s applicable outside of IT and have begun adapting it to their own industries. But agile thinking doesn’t apply just to physical projects like infrastructure maintenance. Make agile-principle adaptation more effective by hiring or training talent with the agile framework already in mind.

Some key hiring trends for 2022 already include agile principles like focusing on process over product and making sure employees feel they can develop current skills while also learning new ones. Leaning into this will promote a culture of collaborative problem-solving that will continually work toward lessening the digital divide.

3. Focus on organizational vision

As the workforce ages, recruiters are having to rethink methods of enticing new workers. Younger employees value company beliefs and vision. More than half of employees are open to leaving their organizations, but that changes when companies make a positive impact on the world. Only 7 percent of employees who strongly believe the organization’s vision fuels a greater good are actively looking for a different job.

Switch your language to be more mission-driven. Local governments need to combat the perception that government work is boring and instead push the meaningful work it accomplishes for the community. Pour into your employees, and you’ll see those efforts returned in greater numbers.

4. Utilize hybrid work environments

Allowing telework doesn’t decrease production — 70 percent of federal employees said telework actually increased their productivity. Having adaptable workspaces encourages employees to continue wherever they work most efficiently. This can also solve issues of location. If you’re having trouble attracting new talent in your area, expand your search by allowing remote work, especially when targeting younger workers.

Even if remote-only won’t work for your governmental duties, consider a hybrid environment. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of our workforce can now operate in hybrid conditions, and structuring your organization to work within that will increase worker productivity, mental health and workplace bonds. In addition, hybrid workers report less burnout than either fully remote or fully in-person employees.

5. Rethink your services to be ‘digital first’

Online services have become even more in demand throughout the pandemic. Pushing a “digital-first” mindset will better serve citizens and attract new talent eager to be a part of the future of work.

In addition, digital-first means preemptively addressing concerns with cybersecurity that may arise as telework and digital services grow. Don’t wait until after a breach to start implementing safer digital practices. Data compromises increased by 68 percent from 2020 to 2021. Make sure your digital security team is educated and skilled to prevent becoming a part of that statistic.

Between the Great Resignation and ongoing supply chain adjustments, governments at the state and local level are charged to modernize their workforce culture more than ever before. These are opportunities as much as they are challenges. But the digital world is evolving regardless of whether we’re ready. Don’t let your skill gaps grow with it.

Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode has been recognized for expanding “the tech workforce by providing free coding education to disadvantaged job seekers.” Jeff lives in St. Louis with his wife and twin girls.