Federal Tech Leaders Outline How Agencies Need to Adapt to the Changing Workforce

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Old hiring methods and assumptions won’t hold up in the future, according to a new report from the Federal CIO Council.

The Federal Chief Information Officers Council—a group of federal IT leaders from across government—released a new report analyzing the state of the federal IT workforce and offering substantive suggestions on how managers can prepare their programs and employees for the future.

The government has been on a strong IT modernization kick for multiple administrations, with current leadership publishing the IT Modernization Report right out of the gate. But without a well-trained, innovative, consistent workforce to continue upgrading and maintaining these systems, any progress made will soon be lost.

“The impact of these new IT resources is only as strong as the workforce that installs, operates, and maintains them,” the report states. “As such, federal IT professionals must have the knowledge and skills required to support agency operations.”

Over the course of nine months, members of the CIO Council interviewed “nearly two dozen experts,” including “agency chief information officers and chief human capital officers, agency IT practitioners, private industry executives, IT innovators, consultants, and emerging technology researchers,” the report states. The new report is an update to the council’s 2017 State of Federal Information Technology.

The report opens by acknowledging the current, unsustainable state of the federal IT workforce.

“The government … faces a workforce that is increasingly eligible for retirement, making it imperative to bring in younger workers to fill open positions,” it states, citing previous Nextgov reporting that showed, as of December 2017, agencies employed 4.5 IT specialists over the age of 60 for every IT employee under the age of 30. As the older generation ages out into retirement, agencies have to focus on bringing in—and keeping—younger talent.

The report also cites the need to increase diversity in tech hiring.

“Representation of minority groups has continually increased as a percentage of federal IT workers, closely matching the makeup of the broader federal workforce,” the council wrote. “However, the percentage of women in federal IT positions has dropped in recent years, while the broader trend of women in federal positions has remained relatively unchanged.”

As the workforce and agencies’ needs change, the council divided managers’ tasks into three buckets:

  • Building the workforce of tomorrow through new recruiting and hiring practices.
  • Maintaining an innovative workforce through retraining and reskilling.
  • Augmenting the workforce with commercial and intragovernmental consulting.

For each area, the council identified specific objectives for IT managers centered on five drivers: innovation, mobility, cybersecurity, collaboration and agility.

Along with these issue areas, the report also highlights the need to measure success.

“Without sufficient qualitative and quantitative data, it will be impossible to gauge successes. Opportunities to leverage data will be identified in order to chart the best path forward by providing a focus on measuring alongside each of the other” primary issue areas, the council wrote.

The report notes the workforce is changing—technology-focused or otherwise—as is the way people work. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown agencies that a dispersed workforce can still be effective—though the authors said, “the extreme changes to the working environment due to COVID-19 were not considered in this update.” But when trying to attract top talent that might not live near an agency headquarters or branch office, the flexibility to allow remote work might be the answer.

The authors pointed out this was becoming the new normal even before the outbreak.

“With the ability to connect remotely across multiple places of work, individuals are seeking to perform work when and where they feel most comfortable,” they wrote. “This trend has been witnessed in the federal space as well, with the Office of Personnel Management reporting the percentage of eligible employees teleworking increased from 29% in 2012 to 51% in 2016.”

To help with this thought-process, the report’s authors included a graphic depicting potential hotspots for IT hiring, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and metrics such as the number of government employees and the tech talent already in the area, how fast the tech sector is growing, and the cost of living and renting. 

Ultimately, the report makes 10 recommendations for the future IT workforce:

  • Develop a new governmentwide special IT pay system.
  • Move to a competency-based classification model for all IT positions.
  • Create interdisciplinary procurement teams.
  • Redesign the IT recruiting and hiring process to attract highly qualified and diverse individuals.
  • Make federal IT career paths more attractive to the workforce of the future.
  • Improve recognition for the best performers and innovators in federal IT.
  • Compare the effectiveness of IT workforce programs with the private sector.
  • Expand existing pilot programs to improve recruiting efforts.
  • Increase adoption and long-term impact of intragovernmental augmentation offerings.
  • Employ more technical subject matter experts who are trained as project managers.

“Implementing these recommendations simultaneously will improve employee engagement and workplace satisfaction, which will help agencies achieve their missions,” the authors said.

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