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States Increasingly Boost Workforce with Nontraditional Hires

From eliminating four-year degree requirements to major reskilling programs and a focus on building agency culture, state IT shops are looking to new ways to overcome persistent staffing concerns.

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Getting more people to work in government is a perennial issue. Technology jobs in the private sector are often more lucrative or flexible, presenting unique challenges for staffing in government IT shops. In fact, addressing staffing shortages was the second biggest priority for public-sector IT over the past 12 months by one metric, second only to cybersecurity. Yes, it’s a persistent and important question, but in 2023 there seemed to be more answers than usual.

State leaders publicly made cases for why young people should consider careers in government IT, doing so in conversations with Government Technology as well as during industry-leading events like the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Midyear Conference. From the Texas Department of Information Resources, Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Jammer stressed that working there was an excellent opportunity for young staffers to try many different roles, learning what might fit personally while also building a resume. Then-Delaware CIO Jason Clarke talked about the variety of knowledge one gets from public-sector experience, while Maryland CIO Katie Savage discussed how, in the current moment, government work presents a unique opportunity to make a difference.

That’s all interesting and important, of course, but there were also a lot of tangible actions taken at different levels of government to bolster IT workforces. Some states were re-evaluating long-standing four-year degree requirements for IT hires, waiving or eliminating them in favor of skills-based hiring or technical certifications for certain roles. Other states took a hard look at how they write job postings, trying to trade boilerplate phrases for more conversational or specific language that potential hires might find enticing. Some government entities also tried to branch out with where they were posting jobs, going beyond simply putting them up on government websites to reach other job sites.

And, of course, in 2023 it remained very important to fill these roles. Leaders at county, city and state levels of government last year reported needing to close staffing gaps in order to better meet their most-critical goals, from modernizing systems to fortifying cybersecurity postures to building new applications. Part of making sure roles are filled is also retention, which pushed some in the public sector to consider offering more hybrid or remote roles, or flexible schedules. Focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion was also a retention effort that spread in government in 2023, particularly at the local level.

But there was one workforce program that stood out among public-sector technology offices in 2023: Indiana’s State Earn and Learn (SEAL) program. SEAL saw the state team up with an employment vendor and community colleges to find recruits, many of whom were folks with work experience in the private sector — at restaurants or in factories, for example — and often not with technology. The goal of the program was to create a pathway for people to learn an entirely new job in public-sector IT, start a new career and, effectively, begin a new life — all while getting paid to do it. 

Essentially, in SEAL people get paid to do on-the-job training, generally for the jobs they will later be doing full time. The program has taken bus drivers, arcade game repair technicians and more and reskilled them in needed areas such as cybersecurity and systems engineering. These are jobs for which the state can’t easily find workers. On top of that, bringing in new workers this way tends to instill them with a sense of appreciation for and ownership of the work, making it more likely that they will work hard and stay with the state long term. Indiana is not alone in this kind of on-the-job training or apprenticeship approach — other states started using it as well in 2023 — but it is far ahead of the pack. And it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see the work emulated by more states — or even cities — in the years to come.

Click here to read the rest of our 2023 Year in Review coverage.

This story originally appeared in the December issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.