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How Two States Are Bridging Talent Gaps and Growing Their Workforce

Virginia and Maryland are utilizing various workforce strategies to create online training programs, empower agencies with a pipeline of skilled workers and provide existing employees with upskill opportunities.

A computer skills concept image of a person climbing a staircase toward a glowing laptop.
The growing dependence on a highly skilled technology workforce has governments scrambling to compete with major tech companies offering much higher salaries. The challenging environment has some states turning to enhanced internal training and skills development.

Over the last several years, Virginia's IT agency has been using technology-based training programs and workforce development initiatives to meet the demand for skilled IT workers. The Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) equips and empowers the state’s 66 executive branch agencies and 55,000 employees with IT infrastructure, cybersecurity, governance and procurement services.

The agency has made great strides in automating its workforce processes to embrace new, emerging technologies by incorporating unique tools to attract and retain quality candidates, growing its VITA workforce by 30 percent in the past year.

To upskill current employees, VITA created a statewide cybersecurity training platform powered by KnowBe4. The platform provides customizable, solution-based learning modules that are available to all state agencies.

“Users can build a curriculum by creating and publishing custom content and accessing existing training materials,” Stephanie M. Benson, external communications and outreach manager for VITA, told Government Technology. “Additionally, employees experience quarterly social engineering tests designed to mimic ‘real world’ situations that occur (such as phishing emails, etc.) to help reinforce cyber training.”

The training platform also focuses on user engagement — unlike more traditional cybersecurity training — and is designed to be highly interactive, using a variety of media and techniques to keep users interested and motivated. This includes everything from gamification elements to real-world simulations to create a more immersive and impactful experience.

Advanced analytics and reporting capabilities allow the agency to track the effectiveness of their training programs in real time, making it easy to identify areas that need improvement and adjust training programs accordingly.

Launched in July 2021, VITA has also seen successes with its robotic process automation (RPA) program. For example, RPA has been implemented to process tax returns, data entry and other repetitive tasks. By implementing RPA, the organization has been able to reduce the time it takes to process tax returns and improve accuracy, freeing up staff to focus on more complex tasks.

“RPA opens expanded potential for efficient and modernized processes across a wide range of essential statewide operations,” Benson said. “The technology provides automation of repeatable, manual business processes/tasks to ensure accurate results and optimized time, human effort and technical resources.”

Meanwhile, for the Maryland Department of Information Technology (DoIT), various technology-based training programs help develop the skills of its employees, along with professional development and soft skills training.

“So called ‘soft skills’ are crucial in state IT. As state CIOs focus on business relationship management, communication and relationship building skills are key,” Meredith Ward, deputy executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), told Government Technology.

“The stereotypical IT role of yesteryear is all about boxes and wires and the person who ‘fixes my computer.’ That is not at all the role that CIOs and IT leadership have taken in state government. They are business leaders who are focused on protecting the state and improving its cyber posture, delivery services and creating a road map for the future of IT in states,” Ward added.

As IT apprenticeships become increasingly important for a state's workforce, Maryland has been taking a unique approach to meet the demand for skilled workers in the IT industry over the past few years. In 2017, the Maryland Department of Labor added information technology as a field to its already blossoming Maryland Apprenticeship and Training Program (MATP).

Through paid apprenticeships, participants are provided a progressive wage, while working alongside experienced IT professionals to train in programming, database management and network administration. Upon completion of the program, they receive a nationally recognized industry credential, making them highly qualified candidates for future IT positions. DoIT also partners with institutions to develop IT degree programs and offers internships to students interested in pursuing IT careers.

“Since the program's start, 89 individuals have completed IT apprenticeships and graduated into careers related to information technology, and an additional 202 individuals are currently registered as apprentices in IT or similar occupations,” Jamie Mangrum, director of communications at the Maryland Department of Labor, told Government Technology. “Apprentices earn and learn as they begin their careers and enter the workforce without the debt often associated with a college degree.”

The Maryland Department of Labor also works closely with various training providers, including universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations, to ensure a highly skilled workforce is ready and available to fill open positions.

Maryland's Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) program provides $3 million annually to organizations providing in-demand skills training to prepare individuals for careers in information technology,” Mangrum shared. “These organizations work with employers and industry partners to develop a curriculum responsive to industry demand.”

With cybersecurity staffing shortages a national concern among IT leaders, Maryland is also continuously searching for new ways to utilize technology to improve the recruitment process for cyber job opportunities.

Last year, the SANS Institute in Maryland renewed and expanded a free cybersecurity training for Maryland residents in a collaboration with the state. The cybersecurity training school’s Cyber Workforce Academy — Maryland program aims to help students from other careers transition into well-paying cybersecurity jobs and to recruit from demographics underrepresented in cyber.

“The last time we ran an analysis in the state [in early 2021], the average salary increase of a graduate for this program — of the students who got jobs with it — was about $20 per hour more that they were earning than when they got to the program,” Max Shuftan, SANS’ director of Mission Programs and Partnerships, told Government Technology last year.

The efforts to train students from different career backgrounds has become critical as the demand for cybersecurity professionals globally is currently outstripping supply. A study completed by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)² in 2022 found that the global cybersecurity workforce shortage has increased to 3.12 million professionals.

“Some of the biggest challenges in the next five years will be how states are meeting needs for things like cybersecurity services,” Ward said. “In order to compete with the marketplace and attract talent necessary to meet these needs, states are raising pay scales, looking at outdated job descriptions and titles, reskilling/retraining current staff and look at DEIB and creating a culture of belonging.”
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.