States face IT worker shortage; cost-cutting measures partly to blame

States are facing critical shortages of IT workers, made worse by furloughs, hiring freezes and stagnant salaries -- similar to measures that are in effect or proposed for feds.

State governments are facing critical IT personnel shortages, according to a recent report by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. And many of the causes that NASCIO identified are similar to measures being proposed for the federal workforce.

“State layoffs, furloughs, hiring freezes and lack of salary increases [have] exacerbated this situation,” wrote Chad Grant, NASCIO policy analyst and author of the study, "State IT Workforce: Under Pressure - A National Survey of the States.”  The other major contributor, a substantial number of state employees at or nearing retirement age, could also affect the federal workforce.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and one territory responded to the Web-based survey, which was completed in November. The survey benchmarked data from NASCIO’s 2007 survey on the same subject, “State IT Workforce: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?” and found that although the issue is more pressing today, the worst may be yet to come, because many older workers have held off on retiring due to the down economy.

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Nearly two-thirds of respondents anticipate having to reduce staff and, consistent with the 2007 survey, nearly a quarter of state CIOs predict that between 21 and 30 percent of state IT employees will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. Twenty-nine percent anticipate that between 31 and 50 percent of their IT employees will be eligible for retirement in the same time period.

An aging workforce and tight budgets are only part of the problem, however. In a survey by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or ISC-Squared, many respondents blamed a shortage of IT security personnel on a limited talent pool. Nearly half said that current information security certification programs, which are increasingly required in both government and the private sector, are inadequate and do not address the needed skills.

“There are not enough people to go around,” Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary at the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate said in November. “And getting them is really hard.”

The greatest challenges, however, are hiring freezes and elimination of vacant positions. The average anticipated staff reduction was 10 percent, with the lowest reported at 2 percent and the highest 20 percent. And the federal workforce is facing similar pressures. Already a two-year salary freeze is in place. Meanwhile, various bills propose measures such as 10-day furloughs for federal employees or reducing the overall size of the workforce by 10 percent. Others propose increasing the existing salary freeze to three years or more.

NASCIO represents CIOs and IT executives from the states, territories and the District of Columbia.