May 03 2023

NASCIO 2023 Midyear: State IT Leaders Continue Discussion on Retaining Cyber Talent

Texas Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Jammer said organizations must create a sense of belonging and consider skill-based hiring to address talent shortages.

Texas Chief People and Culture Officer Lisa Jammer led a learning session Monday about attracting and retaining cyber talent at this year’s NASCIO 2023 Midyear conference in National Harbor, Md. The annual conference brings together state IT leaders to discuss the latest IT trends, challenges, and developments in state and local governments. In the same session, NASCIO Deputy Executive Director Meredith Ward, also provided her perspective on the cyber talent landscape.

The backdrop of Monday’s discussion was that IT workforce shortages remain a huge challenge for state and local government agencies. A NASCIO and Deloitte report actually identified a lack of talent as one of the chief obstacles to government cybersecurity efforts. Agencies face stiff hiring competition, usually offer less money than corporate jobs and are trying to recruit workers who want better work-life balance since the pandemic, which is even harder to offer in the public sector where institutional change can be slow.

Monday’s session with Jammer and Ward focused on recommendations regarding organizational culture and modernizing hiring processes to improve attraction and retention.

The session also touched on recommendations gathered from the NASCIO-National Governors Association report, “Securing States: Modernizing to Attract and Retain Cyber Talent.” The report includes insights from experts on experiences and best practices on attracting and retaining cyber talent.

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Agencies Must Create a Culture of Flexibility and Belonging

Jammer and Ward spoke of the importance of building a “culture of belonging” to retain talent. Jammer said a culture of belonging is one where employees feel they can bring all of their unique selves to the workplace.

“Do you get to know employees? Do you get to understand their stories? How does that align with their career progression? Employees are looking for an opportunity to have a full-cycle lifestyle and journey with you as their whole self,” Jammer said.

When speaking of cybersecurity jobs, soft skills, culture and mental well-being may not be the first things that come to mind. Nevertheless, they’re important to the IT workforce, especially to millennials, who now make up most of the workforce. State and local governments must make sure they’re creating inclusive, accepting and flexible work environments.

“Millennials want to belong, have flexibility, do meaningful work, and they want to give back,” Ward said, noting that older generations want these things as well. “Someone told me the other day that he has a staff member in her 80s who said, ‘Please don’t take away my remote work,’ and a 24-year-old who said, ‘I want to come into the office.’ I think that just goes to show you that the name of the game is flexibility.”

Employees will also have a sense of belonging if they feel they have a future with an organization. To that end, Ward recommends reskilling workers to meet modern IT demands and better retaining workers by showing them they can grow at their current organization.

Governments Can Change How They Evaluate and Develop Talent

Agencies could also take a step back and think about what they’re looking for in candidates. For a long time, a four-year degree was required for just about any job. But more organizations are moving away from this philosophy, removing degree requirements for entry-level positions. This widens the field of candidates, which could help address workforce shortages. It also opens opportunities to hire people in underserved communities who are otherwise qualified but who may not have the resources to pursue a degree.

“Let’s talk about skills-based hiring. Is a degree really required? It’s time for us to think about how many candidates we’re turning away,” Jammer said. “Don’t get me wrong, education is important, and we want people to get degrees. But what about mothers who have left the workforce and are looking to re-enter? What about individuals who have been taking care of a family member who is ill?”

Organizations instead may look for certifications or specific job experience. Agencies can start internship and apprenticeship programs to train potential employees and give them the necessary experience to thrive there. Agencies can also create more opportunities for experiential learning by partnering with universities to create classes relevant to what agencies are looking for.

“It’s a partnership between the employer and the university,” Jammer said. “So, if I’m looking for cybersecurity, I’m going to partner with that class and provide a couple of projects. It’s a larger pipeline for my internship program.”

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the NASCIO 2023 Midyear conference. Follow us on Twitter at @StateTech and the official conference Twitter account, @NASCIO. Join the conversation using the hashtag #NASCIO23.

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