White House Workforce Summit Aims to Future-Proof Tech Talent

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The administration plans to reskill more than 300,000 employees over the next three years, including the IT workforce.

As technology changes the way organizations do business, the White House is convening an executive symposium Wednesday to hear from government, industry and academics on the best ways to transform the federal workforce.

“The goal is to ‘change the conversation’ and hear ‘different’ voices on a variety of topics, including performance/pay/compensation, reskilling, workforce reform, how technology affects people, etc.,” according to an invitation obtained by Government Executive, Nextgov’s sister publication.

While the event will focus on the entire federal workforce, Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent offered a preview of where those discussions are headed for the federal IT workforce Tuesday during a keynote at the Professional Services Council’s annual Tech Trends Conference.

“When we compare the federal government generically to industry, there’s an opportunity for greater focus on the long-term career progression,” she said. That means “ensuring that we’re not just looking at moving up levels from a management perspective; that we’re actually looking at the skills the employees need to have to be successful in the environment they’re working in.”

For IT-focused employees, that means skills in emerging technologies.

“It’s operating models that are different—particularly as we look at different models for shared services or services that are provided externally,” Kent said.

Governmentwide, the Office of Management and Budget’s reskilling task is no small initiative. The government is looking to retrain some 300,000 employees over the next three years, said William Eggers, citing recent discussions with OMB.

“I think there’s a lot of ways we can use things like design thinking, we can use behavioral nudges and a lot of other ways to try to get at that,” said Eggers, who is executive director of the Deloitte Center for Government Insights and a prolific author on federal IT issues. “But I don’t think traditional change management practices that work after the fact are going to work well.”

During her morning keynote earlier, Kent said the workforce session would focus on finding those alternative options, such as engaging public-private partnerships and building a community of support around continuing education.

“There’s also a focus on how, in communities where we have big federal workforces, do we ensure that in that community there’s a broad spectrum of support—of different educational options—to continue to bring the workforce of the future forward,” she said. “Those things cross different types of education, different levels and different types of programs.”

While automation and other advancements in technology will dramatically change the kind of work being done, Kent stressed the need to find new work for longstanding employees in order to maintain that institutional knowledge.

“There is a significant commitment to the current federal workforce because the knowledge of how the business processes work is critical to the transformation that we just talked about and how we actually change that dialogue,” she said.