Sep 26 2007

Enticing Employees to Government IT

Enticing Employees to Government IT

Enticing Employees to Government IT

When it comes to employment in the public sector versus the private sector, there’s a quandary centering on the fact that private sector jobs are gauged to a higher salary scale.

Work in government agencies is at the behest of the taxpayers, so there will always be natural limits to government salaries — even the salaries commanded by star employees. So IT employee recruitment and retention will likely be perennial challenges in government circles.

Successful staffing strategies stem from innovation, which puts our natural capacities for creativity to the test. We need to get beyond the first things that come to mind, such as offering training, flexible work schedules and telework.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t offer these perks, but if we can think in terms of other innovative ideas, we’ll make even more progress.

Fostering a fun work environment promotes employee retention, says James Gentile, chief security officer in the Information Technology Services division of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“It can involve some pretty subtle things, but ‘team-building’ is huge — I’ve seen it really improve employee morale.”

He’s not talking about bringing in a lecturer or team-building training but going as a group to an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game. “Everybody has fun, and you build camaraderie and morale,” says Gentile.

And that’s not the only innovative way to look at recruitment and retention in a government IT environment.

“You can actively recruit for what we might refer to as the ‘older generation,’ or the ‘with-experience’ workforce,” says Charlie Sasser, director of support services with the Georgia Technology Authority and himself a retiree from his previous career in the telecommunications industry.

“You may luck into some extremely capable technical people who have reached the point in life at which they no longer have the psychological or financial need for ladder-climbing,” says Sasser. What these IT pros do have is a need to contribute.

Not only that, but there might be more incentive to achieve in a government IT context than at first seems apparent. “If you love a challenge … we’ve got them,” says Sasser. He notes that the challenge of accomplishing the task at hand with less-than-cutting-edge tools can be rewarding.

The challenges, in fact, never cease. And among the key challenges for IT management in state and local government is the need for top talent — how to acquire solid, experienced techies, and how to best encourage that talent to stay awhile.

“It’s a major stumbling block — just getting people in the door,” says Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State CIOs. “Even though it may be challenging and they may have a chance to grow a lot faster, getting them to even consider the public sector — and particularly state government — can be very difficult.”

However, Robinson points out some states are embarking on innovative IT initiatives, which could present more opportunity to work on interesting projects than do other IT environments.

Retention Recommendations

  • Ask your employees who receive valuable training to commit to stay with your department for an agreed-upon timeframe.
  • Put some personality into doing your job. Be a genuinely pleasant person to work for — if you’re a boss — or to work alongside. People don’t leave jobs; they leave their bosses.
  • Shore up IT security and use this feature as a selling point for working in your department.