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People First: Where Aren't You Looking for New Tech Talent?

From reskilling non-traditional IT hires to eliminating degree requirements, state and local governments are putting people's interests and potential before technical experience.

People sitting in chairs in a line against a white brick wall. Some of them are looking at cellphones while others are looking at tablets or laptops. They are only seem from teh neck down, their heads are cut off at the top of the image.
This issue of the magazine looks at the future of the government IT workforce. It’s a topic I often return to in this column. After all, regardless of the components of your technology stack, it’s the people charged with operating and managing it in service of your constituency that will determine how successful you are.

This month’s cover story by Associate Editor Zack Quaintance looks at emerging efforts from states to reskill people from other industries into technology jobs. By supporting some initial training for motivated people who might not have previously seen themselves in IT, states can funnel qualified talent into stable jobs with good benefits, changing people’s trajectories along the way. And as the profiles in Untapped Potential: States Turn to Non-Traditional Tech Hires reveal, participants in initiatives like Indiana’s SEAL (State Earn and Learn) program can often influence like-minded people to follow their lead into government IT.

“This program changes lives,” said Kevin Barthauer, president of the SEAL Alumni Association. “It took me from a sort of dead-end career that wasn’t ever going to pay me significantly more than I was making and moved me to a new career. I have nowhere to go but up, and I absolutely love working at it every day.”

Government Gets Creative to Overcome IT Staffing Gaps takes an in-depth look at what positions cities, counties and states most struggle to fill, fueled by recent research from the Center for Digital Government.* There’s a lot of commonality across jurisdictions: Cybersecurity, data analytics and business intelligence, and application building, integration and modernization skills are all in short supply.

But CIOs and their colleagues in hiring offices are getting creative. Over the past few years, many have focused on reimagining the process entirely with new job classifications, new job descriptions and more flexible requirements for applicants. One emerging trend has been a more thoughtful review of whether certain positions need four-year degrees when certificate-holders and others with specialized expertise might be ready to hit the ground running.

Being opportunistic can pay off too, as Ohio CIO Katrina Flory was in the wake of job cuts at a large Ohio company. Noting the company’s use of similar tech to the state, her department set up shop at a job fair for those affected by the layoffs.

There’s a place for young digital natives in government IT, too. Kids like Elias Fretwell, who you’ll get to know in A Young Civic Hacker Could Be the Next Generation of Gov Tech, come to the table with baseline knowledge their millennial and Gen X parents call upon often to navigate the tech support challenges inevitable in daily life. Largely self-taught, young people like Elias might need a nudge in the direction of government, like Elias received from his dad, whose interest in civic tech surely permeates the Fretwell household. Engaging with government data sets available on the federal portal, Elias has gotten replies to issues he has submitted, as well as acknowledgment of his work creating apps from the data. That’s the kind of thing that could influence someone like Elias to point his talent in the direction of public service.

Technology leaders in government are in perhaps the best position to evangelize the benefits of working in IT in the public sector. In Why Should Young People Work in Government IT?, we captured the best pitches we heard at the NASCIO Midyear conference this past May. With a near-universal caveat that government cannot compete salary-wise with the private sector, they instead tout the broad base of technology that new hires will get to work with, the stability of government work as well as the unmatched ability to do something mission-driven.

In the words of Massachusetts CIO Jason Snyder, a veteran of many sectors, “Government work is the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. … I’m actively dealing with issues that affect my family. I’m dealing with issues that affect friends, and I think the ability to do that, it’s unique. And I think it’s a major selling point.”

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

This story originally appeared in the July/August issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
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.