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Future-Proofing Government: Building a Resilient IT Workforce

Millennials now outnumber baby boomers in the public-sector workforce, and IT is no exception. Leaders must work with HR and create incentives and pathways to keep the next generation engaged and on board.

Office workers in cubciles
By this time in the early months of 2020, most technology leaders in government are actively working on developing their workforce to ensure they’re ready for the future. And if they aren’t, they should be.

Our story Government Finds New Ways to Develop and Retain Talent includes data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on the generational composition of the government workforce. The percentage of millennials in government lags behind their representation in the private sector, but their numbers are growing. In fact, people born between 1981 and 1997 outnumbered baby boomers in government for the first time in 2017. And while Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) still dominates the workforce, that, too, is fleeting.

This time of generational transition presents complex issues for CIOs trying to fill open positions with talented staff and keep existing teams challenged and engaged. One key component of a successful strategy is close coordination with human resources.

“It’s the role of the CIO to build a more proactive and consistent relationship with HR, so that they fully understand the challenges that IT is facing,” Gartner analyst Alia Mendonsa said in our story. There is ample proof of the tech skills gap, after all, so HR and IT staff must work hand in hand to make sure they have who they need to do the people’s business. 

Some elements of the workforce solution are simple, but that doesn’t mean they don’t cost money. According to a recent survey of the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, nearly two-thirds of organizations devote money to employee training, and the pace of technological change makes investment in skills development even more important for IT staff. As skills people learned in school fade into obsolescence, they need to develop new ones to stay relevant. And as service delivery models continue to evolve, technical employees are interacting more than ever before with a growing circle of stakeholders. This requires soft skills like communication and customer service that might not have been a priority in earlier times when technical staff interacted mostly with technology.

Career paths are individual, and putting in the time to not only define paths to advancement for various roles, but also make sure people’s particular interests are nurtured, can greatly assist retention rates. That’s the case in Cabarrus County, N.C., where CIO Todd Shanley ensures resources are devoted to specialized training opportunities.

“What does the county need and what are you interested in? Then we build the plan around the places where those come together,” Shanley said. 

Government can very rarely compete with private-sector salaries, but some are finding creative ways to make small, yet impactful adjustments. Fulton County, Ga., incentivizes performance-based increases that encourage achievements at the department level that are linked to bigger countywide goals.

Aside from compensation, employees also place a great deal of value on a flexible workplace. The option to telecommute is increasingly viable, and many roles in IT are poised to take advantage of it. A work schedule outside of the standard 8 to 5 makes sense for many positions too, and it communicates to employees that their bosses are listening to their needs, and value their lives outside the office.

While the challenge is great, government has some tools available to help develop a resilient, future-focused workforce. Even better, they have the creativity to put them into practice. 

Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.