What it takes to recruit and retain skilled IT workers in government
There may be a talent shortage of workers skilled in information technology. America has about 5 million open jobs today, more than at any point since 2001. Over half a million of those job openings are in information technology fields like software development, network administration and cybersecurity. In response, the federal government is making available $100 million in grants through its Tech Hire initiative. The grants will be used to train and connect more workers to a good job in technology and other in-demand fields.
GPN has written about the IT talent shortage here and here. We reached out to Chris Kohlmann to find out about IT workforce trends in government. Kohlmann is Dubuque Iowa’s Information Services Manager. Kohlmann’s views are below.
GPN: How can local governments keep their IT workforces productive in spite of future retirements and competition from the private sector?
Chris Kohlmann: In college I had a professor that used to frequently reference “real world” data processing when she instructed. During my career her words have rang true many times as I realized what she was talking about, was creating a sustainable and adaptive IT environment that can weather not only the test of time that includes losing key staffers to retirement and increasing competition to fill those spots but also an ever-changing technology environment. I think the question of productivity really becomes one of are we working on the right problems, at the right time, with the right people and with the right skill sets. Also – do we have a shared definition of “success” and a way to measure.
In addition, as much of the “care and feeding” of server and storage environment moves to a managed environment, the skill set I’m looking for are individuals able to understand the issues and challenges of local government, and how to apply technology to solve our problems. I think also the focus of IT tends to concentrate on how will their work impact users in the organization – our new focus looks outward to citizens, visitors, developers, etc.
GPN: What are the secrets of recruiting and retaining key local government IT staffers in the future?
CK: I think the secrets of recruiting key local government IT staffers in the future are finding individuals who see value in public service and how they can make a difference in what they do. Too often, we lead with or emphasize the technology skills needed for a position and then get to the public service part of the job and what that means from a value perspective.
Please know I’m not saying that good, strong technical skills and ability aren’t vital as well, but I think we do a disservice to millennial new hires to value them for their high comfort level and technical savvy alone. I think they have a sincere interest in making a difference in the way we solve problems using technology. I think the sooner they can see the big picture of what they would be doing as a prospective new hire and how that impacts the organization and the city they live in will make a big difference in getting a good “fit” in a new hire from the start.
GPN: What are the best ways that government IT managers can recruit security and cloud specialists and other staffers with high-demand IT skills? Also, are any city IT managers seeing an IT skills shortage?
CK: As an IT manager that’s looking more to using the cloud as a resource vs. cloud hosting, I’m not sure I can comment on the first part of this question. I think a shortage we’re seeing is in some of the basics around security and database design. Some of the needs around security come from a culture of social media over-sharing and a naive, blind trust of existing security systems.
I continue to be amazed by vendors who are caught off guard by my questions of security of hosted systems – my concern is – will those that follow me ask those same tough questions? I can only hope their education and experience will improve this point. In terms of data – I think IT is the part of the organization tasked with cataloging and insuring integrity and interoperability between silos of information.
Too often IT staffers sees themselves as the entity tasked only with physically caring for the storage and availability of data. In my opinion the only way for this to improve is greater emphasis in IT education on database design and the very boring and seemingly outdated concepts like entity-relationship modeling.
GPN: Thank you, Chris Kohlmann, for your views.