States That Innovate Likelier to Attract, Retain Needed IT Talent

A new NASCIO report examines the state IT workforce, and finds that smart IT organizations are focusing on digital engagement, and innovation and transformation of government.

by / April 16, 2015

Over 90 percent of government respondents to a new National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) survey said a state’s salary rates and pay grade structures present a challenge in attracting and retaining IT talent.

“What intensifies the severity of this response is that, in the 2011 NASCIO workforce report, 78.6 percent answered yes [to the same question],” said Meredith Ward, senior policy analyst at NASCIO and author of the report.

The association previously released reports on IT workforce in 2007 and 2011. But in 2015, "human resources/talent management" made NASCIO’s “Top Ten” list of CIO priorities again for the first time in several years, causing the organization to re-examine the issue.

State IT Workforce: Facing Reality with Innovation, a study released by NASCIO on April 16, examines the current landscape of the state Information Technology workforce and details innovative techniques state IT agencies are using to recruit and retain both entry level and highly skilled personnel.

“We know that states face recruiting difficulties because of several issues and a big one can be public perception of state public service,” said Ward.

In fact, 86 percent of states are having difficulty recruiting new employees to fill vacant IT positions, according to the report, and 46 percent of states report that it is taking three to five months to fill senior level IT positions.

But states that innovate have a better chance of getting and keeping the IT talent they need, the report states.

“Consolidation and restructuring the IT organization has created tremendous opportunities to retain top talent,” according to the report.

Smart IT organizations are therefore focusing on digital engagement, innovation/transformation of government, and smaller/faster project development and implementation.

“As one CIO said, ‘Money isn’t everything,’ and we know that states can’t compete with the salaries of the private sector,” said Ward. “We hope that this will be a call to action for states to up the ante on non-tangible benefits that can attract workers—like flexible work schedules, increasing continuing education and skills development and creating innovative work environments that minimize bureaucracy.”

The report also features findings and recommendations for state CIOs when it comes to talent, such as collaborating with state human resources on best practices and needed reforms, providing flexible work programs, as well as options for continuing education and skills development, enhancing succession planning and advocating for phased retirement options.

“Old folks and young guns and those in-between all have much to offer,” said Ward. “So maybe a state has an older set of workers whose expertise is in data centers that have now moved to the cloud. Why not retrain those seasoned workers on a new project while making sure to tailor benefits and offerings that appeal to cross sections of the workforce?”

When asked if a shortage of qualified candidates for state IT positions is hindering states from achieving strategic IT initiatives, 66 percent of respondents said yes.

“States have and will continue to be creative,” said Ward “One CIO described putting an emphasis on training, professional development and the career ladder, whether or not that career is with their department. They encourage professional development and have found many are seeking to grow and stay, not leave.”

Security was identified as the skill that presents the greatest challenge in attracting and retaining IT employees.

“I think states can continue to put an emphasis on cutting edge issues they are working on—for example, cyber security is an issue we hear about every day in the news and one that state CIOs are living and breathing on a daily basis,” said Ward. “So if everyone from state CIOs to governors to legislatures is placing a priority on cyber security, why wouldn’t someone want to work in that field and be where the action is?”

Read the report at www.NASCIO.org/workforce

Justine Brown Contributing Writer