Oct 23 2017

Smart City Pioneers Set Out to Build a Digital Workforce

IoT efforts create a skills gap in local government manpower. Tech leaders in Seattle and Illinois reveal training and partnerships can bolster the necessary expertise.

Growth in smart city initiatives is driving recruitment for new high-tech positions in local government. But is the talent available to bring smart city visions to fruition?

Maybe not, according to a study released this month by CompTIA, an international tech association.

While the Internet of Things is rapidly expanding to connect more people, processes, technologies and data every day, as smart city projects catch on, a stumbling block for the initiatives is a lack of qualified candidates trained to work in many specialty areas of the IT industry. Cybersecurity and data science expertise are proving to be two particularly sticky areas, according to Tim Herbert, senior vice president of research and market intelligence at CompTIA.

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Training, Partnerships Bridge the IoT Skills Gap

While smart city success rests on the optimal blend of people, process and technology working in concert to solve meaningful problems, about 40 percent of government officials and personnel cite a skills gap and a lack of necessary technology expertise as a primary area of concern affecting the expansion of smart city initiatives, according to the report.

The next phase of smart cities growth will be contingent on expanding the depth and breadth of expertise among state and local IT staff — and expanding the workforce.

“Moreover, as smart city initiatives bridge the physical and digital world, government staff at every level will need to be able to do the same,” the CompTIA report states.

To help bridge gaps in cybersecurity and data, some states and local governments are working to educate and recruit a digital-ready workforce.

Illinois, for example, has partnered with the IoT Talent Consortium to deliver education curricula designed to further the state’s goal of transforming into a “smart state.”

The collaboration, announced in April, provides an affordable, state-of-the-art option for those interested in working in the IT industry. To start, officials hope to have 100 courses completed in the program in its first year, says Kirk Lonbom, acting secretary for the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology.

The first track is focused on training in data science, and Lonbom says the next track is expected to be cybersecurity — “one of the higher-need areas.”

There’s clearly a talent shortage nationwide, if not internationally,” Lonbom says.

“There is a great lack of local capacity,” says Jesse Berst, chairman of the Smart Cities Council. “And those cities that solve it are going to have a competitive advantage over those that don’t.”

Like others in the field, Berst anticipates a need for workers trained in data science, device management and cybersecurity.

Seattle’s Smart City Coordinator Champions Data Science

Seattle — a leader in the smart city movement — recently hired a cybersecurity analyst, says the city’s first Smart City Coordinator Kate Garman, who assumed her role in July.

Garman says the ability to make data-driven decisions is a key component of smart cities.

To help facilitate those efforts, the city has “data champions” in all 32 city government departments.

“How do we get people in the city more comfortable using data in everyday projects and looking at that data differently to make proactive decisions rather than reactive?” Garman asks. To help bolster the city workforce’s comfort level, Seattle offers monthly breakfasts with the data champions and additional training.

“I do think that data scientists will make an entrance into local government,” she says.

And Garman is not alone in anticipating an uptick in the call for data science and cybersecurity skill sets in local governments as smart city initiatives are set to increase.

“It’s not just a trend, it’s a race,” Smart Cities Council’s Berst says of future efforts. “If you want to move to the head of the pack, you have to have the infrastructure in place.”

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