Wanted: Skilled IT Workers
Many U.S. organizations, government and otherwise, tap information technology talent from foreign countries such as India and Poland — not just because it costs less but also because it is difficult to find enough help here.
Government IT leaders must develop a strategy to produce enough competent candidates in this country. Education is the most significant way to accomplish this goal: If leaders can keep young Americans in school and expose them to the world of IT, they can make a major impact on the available workforce.
What makes a good IT staffer? Many characteristics are universal, but four traits stand out:
- Competence: Obviously, the most important quality is competence in the field. It’s challenging to keep up with the latest technologies but it’s also necessary. In the IT world, those workers educated in the latest technologies can look ahead and best prepare an organization for coming technical changes.
- Experience: Ninety-five percent of the positions that my company helps fill are mid- to senior-level IT jobs, which require a minimum of three years’ experience. But with technology, even entry-level positions require some experience — hence the need for education.
- People Skills: Good people skills are crucial to an IT employee’s success.
- Team Player: Titles and status no longer trump teamwork. Many employers look for workers who embody their team spirit, whether they’re mailroom employees, upper managers or IT staffers.
Why are we having such a difficult time finding people with these qualifications in the United States and how do we solve this problem? The most significant way to bring IT work back to America is to educate our potential employee pool and target those who might otherwise be lost to the workplace. Unfortunately, the U.S. high school dropout rate is 27 percent; that’s higher than rates in 15 other industrialized countries. IT organizations and leaders must become more involved with community agencies to encourage children to stay in school. At the high school level, and even before that, we can interest young people through fun but educational programs.
Active, well-developed internships at IT organizations in partnership with high schools and universities also can provide education and experience.
An early internship can spark interest in the IT field before a student enters college. An internship program for college students would help state and local government agencies find qualified candidates for entry-level jobs. Internship graduates are familiar with an organization and have proven they can perform.
IT organizations can create co-op programs for people who began their careers in other fields but want to move to IT. Often, such workers have returned to college to obtain additional degrees. And though they are new to the field, they are mature and have experience working in a team. They simply need an opportunity to marry their existing work skills with their new IT skills.
Don’t forget about offering education to existing staff members. In terms of time and cost, it can be easier to keep the workers you have and improve their knowledge and skills rather than look for new employees.
For any avenue, education is ultimately the key. State and local government IT must become actively involved in education to ensure its own prolonged existence. Our future is in our hands.
In D.C., CIO Certification Program Saves Millions
By sending qualified candidates for education and management training at universities in the Washington metropolitan area, the District of Columbia has been replacing contract employees in its CIO posts with salaried systems chiefs.
The city typically pays contractors in these jobs as much as $300,000 annually, but salaried CIOs earn about $146,000 in pay and benefits, the National Association of State CIOs reports. Since the program began in 2002, the city has filled 14 department CIO posts and has found further savings from the employees’ IT initiatives. For instance, the CIO for sanitation services in the Department of Public Works extended use of a city geographic information system to improve routes, which reduced personnel and fuel costs by nearly 10 percent. According to NASCIO, the city estimates it is saving $4 million to $5 million annually.