May 21 2019

How Local Governments Can Overcome IT Hiring Challenges

City and county governments need to get creative and be more flexible to lure in young tech talent.

While it’s well-known that the federal government often faces hurdles in hiring for IT roles, especially in cybersecurity, the same is true for local governments as well. 

According to an infographic based on survey data from the Public Technology Institute and CompTIA, salary constraints and a lack of qualified applicants are the top two barriers to attracting and hiring new IT staff. Also cited were protracted steps in the hiring process and security or background checks.

As StateScoop reports, the infographic uses survey data PTI gathered in January and February to showcase trends in the local government workforce. The group says the survey was designed to “identify some of the issues affecting the local government IT work environment, for both the IT executive and the IT operation.” 

These issues will become more pressing as local government IT teams shed retiring workers. About 16 percent of respondents said that between 10 and 25 percent of their current IT staff will retire within the next two years, while 78 percent reported that up to 10 percent of their staffs are expected to soon retire.

The survey data underscores the depths of the challenges that local governments face, but there are ways that they can overcome them, according to PTI Executive Director Alan Shark. Local government agencies need to enhance technology training, do a better job of selling the public service aspect of government IT work and offer more flexibility with job titles and how employees’ work weeks are structured. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Discover how to get more women into government cybersecurity roles. 

Local Governments Must Get Creative to Hire IT Pros

According to the survey, 52 percent of respondents said it was “somewhat difficult” and 40 percent said it was “very difficult” to find and hire IT staff with the right mix of skills to “make a good addition to the IT team.” 

While conducting interviews, the skill sets IT executives identified as most lacking in job applicants were an understanding of what government does (in terms of services and as an organization) and the role of the IT department, as well as emotional intelligence and oral, written and technical skills.

Meanwhile, 54 percent of survey respondents said that IT department education and training was “limited or nonexistent.”

Shark tells StateTech that was unacceptable. “Employees need to be better trained because there is less history and knowledge in the organization” as older IT workers leave, he says. Training and onboarding processes need to change to reflect that, he adds. 

Local governments can also “do a better job in selling the benefits of the public good” that comes from IT work, Shark says. In some cases, employees could be helping in life-or-death situations in support of public safety services, he notes. IT workers are also striving to improve resident services, make residents happier and make their communities better places to live. 

Agencies can also point out that they do have the ability to roll out innovative applications and enhancements to customer experience for government services. “They need to do a better job of presenting the public good as it relates to technology innovation,” Shark says.

Government agencies also need to get out of their own way when it comes to civil service classifications of certain jobs and job titles for IT roles, Shark says. Instead of a bureaucratic-sounding title for an IT staff member, “call them technology adviser, technology support manager. Give them titles that help them build their resume.”

Shark says that local governments “have so much to gain by making these little steps.”

Additionally, Shark says, city and county councils should make hiring exceptions and increase pay for people who have exceptional skills. “If someone has a special talent that is needed, exceptions can be made,” he says. “There are just too many people in human resources who are not willing to fight that battle.”

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