Apr 27 2015

NASCIO 2015: States Struggle to Fill IT Positions

NASCIO panelists share ways they groom future IT workers and attract them to the field.

Workforce woes continue to plague state government IT departments.

The silver tsunami wave of retirees looms large. “For our state, thousands of years of experience will be walking out the door,” said Maine CIO Jim Smith, who moderated a panel discussion about staffing at the NASCIO 2015 Mid-Year Conference in Alexandria, Va. “Maine is a rural state and sometimes we don’t have opportunities and resources that we need.”

What’s more, a shortage of qualified candidates hampers 66 percent of states from achieving strategic IT initiatives and moving forward with technologies such as cloud and mobility, according to a NASCIO study, State IT Workforce: Facing Reality with Innovation.

At the executive level in California, 88 percent of IT staff are eligible to retire. “That’s really scary,” said CIO Carlos Ramos, noting that it takes about six months to fill those positions.

California has taken several steps to solve the staffing problem. The state has focused on project management and building a cadre of trained people who can guide less experienced folks through the process “We’ve partnered with the tech sector to put on educational forums for specific disciplines such as cybersecurity or cloud to shortcut the learning curve,” Ramos said. And finally, the state partners with the university to hire student interns. “That’s actually how I started in state government.”

Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Procurement Officers, advised, “Bring ‘em in, train them up, let ‘em leave and help them stay.” She noted that governments need to be collaborative and allow staff to move from agency to agency. “I don’t think anyone can expect them to stay in a particular job and agency.”

In Missouri, CIO Tim Robyn makes sure every employee receives $250 annually for training and can spend two hours a week on personal development, training, or however they wish to.

And in Maine, Smith’s department appeals to youths by launching technology nights in which they bring in high school students to show them what the job is like. “We’re also trying to find ways to brand our jobs — we’re going to give you experiences you aren’t going to have anywhere else,” he said.