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Indiana Pulls IT Workforce from Non-Tech Backgrounds

Jon Rogers, Indiana's director of strategic workforce planning, describes the State Earn and Learn program, which recruits participants from diverse backgrounds to spend a year at the Office of Technology and learn on the job.

Jon Rogers, director of strategic workforce development, Indiana Office of Technology
Like most state and local government IT shops, the Indiana Office of Technology (IOT) is working on finding new ways to address staffing. This is where Jon Rogers comes in. Rogers works on workforce development for Indiana with an initiative called the State Earn and Learn (SEAL) program, wherein participants spend a year learning an IT role on the job.

1. What does your role with IOT entail?

I handle workforce, including culture, recruitment, skill-gapping, performance management, and use of non-traditional methods to find and retain talent. Since 2020, we’ve used SEAL as a work-based learning approach to recruit folks from diverse backgrounds, both socioeconomic and professional, and then reskill them into IT. We’ve hired almost 50 associates. 

I’ve got line cooks, truck drivers, factory workers, a mail carrier, teachers, grocery store employees, and now those folks serve in IOT. They’re doing penetration testing, vulnerability management, customer service, operational administration and cloud. We’re seeing the power of workplace learning over a 12-month program to bring great citizens in who are passionate about public-sector IT careers, at a time when they are critically needed.

2. Does SEAL help IOT’s culture by fostering buy-in?

We’ve seen great gains, especially over the last 12 months. We started at a smaller scale, but hiring managers loved these associates. Word spread, and folks started asking if they could use them on their teams. When we can identify talented and passionate people who want to serve in Indiana IT — and if we treat them with a tremendous degree of dignity and appreciation during their first year — they’ll want to stay forever.

We are genuinely grateful they brought their talents to Indiana at a time when government faces challenges around retention and especially retirement. We need people who want to do public-sector work, giving back to people while also advancing their own careers. I’m finding folks at the nexus of that, bringing them in and showing them the love they need. It’s reciprocal. They’re getting a career they love and working for a place that loves them back.

3. How do you decide where to place people?

We assign folks to a specific team in IOT. We want folks to come in and feel part of Team X, not just part of SEAL. This isn’t an internship, it isn’t fluff; this is work-based learning. I want my people to feel first and foremost like they’re part of a team.

Some part of this is done before they come in. I partner with Brooksource — they’re our vendor provider for talent — and so I’ll say, “Who in the pipeline would fit this role and be good for these skills?” That said, we’re not pulling cloud practitioners out of a cloud practitioners pool. This is not staff augmentation; this is work-based learning. We bring them in, take time, develop them, and see if a fit is correct. We’ve had associates who start in one program convert to another. The door is not shut to that.

4. Have other states asked about replicating the SEAL program?

I’ve had conversations with a lot of other states. I’ve also had conversations with one county out of our 92 so far for them to use a SEAL approach. Out of their four people in IT, three are ready to retire. So what do you do, especially if you have geographic challenges for recruitment?

All of us at the state and local levels are looking down the barrel of the same gun as it relates to IT sector employment. We have so many wonderful people who are ready to retire. We want to thank them for their service, soak in all that knowledge, transfer it to the next generation of talent, and really identify folks who want to make us a home and carry it forward.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.