The Government's Tech Talent Gap is (Still) Getting Worse

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And diversity efforts show mixed results.

The age gap in the federal IT workforce is growing wider as agencies fight to attract young technologists to government, according to the latest data from the Office of Personnel Management.

The government added more than 200 people to its IT workforce from September to December, expanding from 84,451 employees to 84,669.

But a Nextgov analysis found agencies have yet to reverse a disturbing trend within their aging tech shops: the number of federal IT specialists age 60 and over is more than quadruple the number of IT workers under 30 years old, and the gap is widening.

In September, 60-plus IT employees outnumbered under-30 employees 4.53-to-1, and by December the ratio hit 4.64-to-1. That’s up from 1.8-to-1 roughly a decade ago.

The age gap in technology positions is more than double that of the overall federal workforce.

The analysis used data from OPM’s FedScope portal on government workers employed under series 2210 positions, designated as “Information Technology Management.”

Nextgov found the trend is being driven more by an increase in older employees rather than a decrease in younger workers. Between September and December, the number of federal IT specialists under 30 grew about 1 percent while the number of 60-plus employees increased more than 3 percent.

Looking at the last calendar year, the trend becomes even more distinct.

Between December 2016 and 2017, the number of IT employees under 30 shrunk roughly 2 percent, the number of those age 60 and over grew nearly 8 percent.

Policymakers and federal tech experts worry the aging IT workforce could become a problem as the world grows more connected and the country faces an ever-expanding array of technological threats. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, told Nextgov older employees are generally less familiar with modern tech, and as many approach retirement, agencies must hire fresh faces to take their place.

As federal leaders push to bring more young digital natives into government, they’re also working to increase diversity within the IT workforce. Like most STEM fields, the federal tech world is predominantly white and male, and the data shows there’s still room to bring more people to the table.

By December, women made up roughly 27.7 percent of the federal IT workforce, down from 28.2 percent a year earlier. During the same period, however, the number of non-white IT specialists increased from 36.3 percent to 37.3 percent.

In terms of total IT employees, changes also varied largely among agencies.

The Homeland Security Department grew its tech workforce more than 9.7 percent between December 2016 and 2017 while the Housing and Urban Development Department lost about 5.5 percent of its IT workers. The Veterans Affairs Department also lost more than 250 tech employees during that time, or roughly 3.7 percent of its entire IT workforce.

Among non-Cabinet agencies, the Small Business Administration made an exceptionally large push to grow its tech shop. The agency increased its IT workforce more than 36 percent between December 2016 and 2017, adding almost 60 specialists to its ranks.