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Technology Insights for Leaders in State & Local Government
Tackling the Government IT Talent Gap
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Kristin D. Russell

The Talent War: How to Attract New Employees to Government Jobs

Colorado CIO Kristin Russell shares strategies for recruiting workers to public service.

posted July 5, 2012  |  Appears in the Summer 2012 issue of StateTech Magazine.

According to a 2011 study from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), between 21 percent and 30 percent of state IT workers will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Here in Colorado, many of our IT staff are eligible for retirement, either imme­diately or in the near future. That's a sobering statistic that public CIOs aren't paying enough attention to.

A war for talent is on the rise. Legacy technology in use by state and local governments and a lower pay scale puts the public sector at a significant disadvantage in attracting workers. A future workforce shortage exacerbates the problem. While the U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be 1.4 million new computer-related job openings by 2018, interest in the field is declining. Qualified prospects will be able to pick and choose among job offers. So how can government compete?

Know Your Market

The public sector provides a ripe environment for recent college graduates to gain extensive hands-on experience and skills. A 2011 study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers reveals that the most important job attribute for students entering the workforce is the opportunity for growth, followed by job security and benefits.

Armed with this information, it behooves public sector IT leaders to work with their local colleges and universities to create robust entry-level programs that attract diverse candidates and offer room for advancement. This could take a variety of forms, including apprenticeships for those seeking computer-related degrees, private/public partnerships with companies in the area or an intern-to-hire program to bring the next generation of workers in the door.

16% Percentage of Colorado Governor's Office of Information Technology workers who are currently eligible for full or reduced retirement benefits, while 30% will be retirement-eligible in the next five years

Government also typically attracts second breadwinners and those nearing retirement who are not yet ready to completely exit the workforce. Such pools of workers typically have more flexibility regarding compensation. They also pursue meaningful work and seek ways to give back to their communities, so job ads should emphasize the value of experience and convey a sense of community. What's more, these people place a high value on work-life balance, so leverage flexible work arrangements, job sharing, telework and comprehensive benefits packages to recruit them.

Create the Culture

It's vital to create a culture where people want to work and can thrive — both to lure new employees and to retain existing staff. Fostering such an environment will in turn encourage employees to recruit talent to the organization. Studies indicate that job satisfaction is directly tied to empowering employees to work on interesting and challenging assignments as part of a highly functioning team. Find out what makes the organization unique and build on that so employees feel aligned with the mission. Above all, open the lines of communication to keep morale and productivity high and turnover low.

Government must plan and act now to avoid serious disruptions that could result from mass retirements. We need to apply focus and specific strategies to reach talent pools that are most likely to be interested in the public sector. We shouldn't sit back and wait for potential employees to come to us. Rather, let's be bold and creative in marketing our organizations and making government the IT employer of choice.

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