Rent-to-Own Promising IT Talent

County in Michigan tries a new recruiting approach.

The federal sector is not alone in its race to attract the highly-skilled, in-demand IT talent out there. State and local governments are facing similar challenges in recruiting these workers, particularly in times of austerity. So how is one local government tackling the challenge?

Phil Bertolini, deputy county executive and CIO for Oakland County, Mich., said Thursday during GovLoop’s online Government Innovation Summit that his county has been forced to compete with the private sector in southeast Michigan, which last year was the fastest growing IT sector in the country. The county currently has 157 IT jobs, 30 of which are vacant, he said.

Bertolini said one way Oakland County is filling these vacancies is through a rent-to-own-type program, where the county works with recruiting companies to train and evaluate potential IT staffers with the option of bringing them on full-time.

The county also is working to clearly identify an IT career path, in large part to make clear to younger hires how their careers can progress over any number of years, Bertolini said. “Longevity is different to young people … and we have to invest in them to get the best out of them,” he said.

Another piece is educating potential applicants about the ability of local government to innovate, Bertolini said, adding that Oakland County has launched a cutting-edge cloud initiative that is providing a model for other governments and agencies. “This is on the front edge of technology … and this is a great place to work for young and middle management technology professionals,” he said. “We’ve been investing in innovation in the toughest economic time in our lifetime, and there’s got to be a way to educate people about what we’re doing.”

Finally, the real challenge for government is paying top-notch IT workers competitive salaries, Bertolini said, and since government can rarely compete in this area, it’s important to expand and promote other benefits, like flexible work hours, collaborative work spaces and challenging work. “Our salaries and benefits are going to be the problem longer term, but if we can take care of some of these other [benefits], we might be able to get the people we need,” he said.