27 Nov IT worker shortage is real for participants in Digital Government Summit
For Mike Biagioli, IT manager for Waukesha County, it’s taken more than 210 days to fill one business analyst position.
Mike Jackson, CIO of Rockwell Automation, described having to outsource management positions because all four director-level IT professionals working on certain legacy systems are retiring within a year.
These were some of the stories told at the Wisconsin Digital Government Summit, held November 27-28 in Madison. Telecommunications, citizen engagement, content management, security, and software development were a few of the topics.
Workforce issues captured the attention of between 350 and 400 attendees at the event.
Jackson, who represented the private sector on a panel, and Biagioli are experiencing wider workforce trends firsthand. IT is suffering from the same workforce challenges that affect the developed world at large: aging populations and low replacement rates.
More than that, it’s a skills shortage, said Melanie Holmes, VP of World of Work Solutions for Manpower. Not only are populations aging in developed countries, she said, but many potential new hires do not have the combination of skills that employers are looking for.
Employers are increasingly looking for project management and other business skills even from junior employees, said Kate Kaiser, associate professor for management at Marquette University. Unfortunately, she said, negative stereotypes about IT roles can be created as early as middle school and become stuck, influencing the labor market far down the line.
Alan Cox, vice president of Government Technology Executive Events, said he hears from government agencies from coast to coast that IT hiring often takes 90 to 180 days.
A number of potential solutions emerged in the discussion.
• Emphasizing challenge and responsibility: Government can offer at least some project-management responsibility and a variety of working roles very early in a person’s career, Biagioli said. For those nearing retirement, “if they feel challenged, they’ll stay beyond their target date simply because they like what they’re doing,” Jackson said.
• Training: “We probably spend two to three times as much on training [in IT] as the rest of the organization,” Jackson said.
“If I don’t train [employees],” Biagioli said, “I guarantee you they’ll leave.”
• Building loyalty: Jackson said his organization helps create a personal development plan for each of its 600 employees, a way of “taking their mind off the market” by focusing them on their advancement opportunities within the company.
• Taking retirement head-on: Rockwell Automation still has pension plans that incent people to retire completely, Jackson said, but the company is working on ways to offer flexible working arrangements and has also experienced success with mentoring programs.
“65 is an arbitrary number that was made up when the average life expectency was 62,” said Holmes, who advocated “prolonging working life” through flexible work programs such as part-time positions and job sharing. Biagioli said retirement planning should include thinking about how to make sure employees are not financially damaged by losing out on Social Security benefits.
Actually implementing these plans is not necessarily easy.
“The risk-averse nature of state government is preventing people from taking action,” said Frank Ace, CIO of the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
He sees hope, however, around the shortage of computer-science majors, which make up a minority of his IT department. He estimates the same is true statewide, and his department recently hired two people from unrelated disciplines who received technical training.
“I think a lot of talented IT staff have different backgrounds,” he said. “A lot of the most talented developers I’ve known have been music majors or something else unrelated.”
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