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Federal CIOs struggle to recruit and retain top IT talent

Kenneth Corbin | Dec. 2, 2015
Government officials stress the need for CIOs to step up IT recruiting and training efforts. They also stress the need to engage more actively with younger workers as they groom the next generation of agency leaders.

Talent compass to recruit and hire the right skills.

Federal CIOs are working through a number of long-term IT initiatives in areas like cloud computing, mobility and open data, but often struggle to recruit and retain top talent.

"The pace of change is so significant," Richard Spires, the former CIO of the Department of Homeland Security, said during a recent panel discussion hosted by Federal News Radio.

"That is a major challenge for a CIO and his or her management team -- how do you keep your workforce fully skilled to be able to take advantage of those new technologies," says Spires, who now serves as CEO of the IT training firm Learning Tree International.

The concerns about agencies fielding a capable IT staff are compounded by the graying of the federal workforce and the challenges in recruiting younger workers who could land more lucrative positions in the private sector.

Federal CIOs urged to step up IT recruiting, training efforts

It's an issue that U.S. CIO Tony Scott has made a high priority at the CIO Council, the consortium of federal government tech chiefs.

"Tony came in [and] one of the things that he's challenging all of us [with] is where are you at with succession planning. How are you preparing the younger employees to assume these roles when you are gone?" says Richard McKinney, CIO of the Department of Transportation (DoT). "And there's a number of initiatives that we're starting where we're going to be identifying some employees and we're going to be giving them some training along those lines, as part of -- again -- that emphasis on succession planning. A lot of emphasis around the council right now on workforce development."

McKinney says that the DoT is in the process of hiring a chief learning officer, a role that figures to help the department improve its efforts in hiring, training and retaining top talent.

Mike Casey holds that position at the General Services Administration, where he has been working to bring the government more in line with the private sector, studying the hiring practices of firms like Google and Zappos and accelerating the onboarding process at his agency, which now includes a four-hour module focused on helping new employees envision how they would like to progress in their government careers.

Central to all of those efforts for government CIOs, Casey explains, is reinforcing the mission of the agency, stressing the fundamental civic goal of improving citizen services.

"I think it begins with making sure our employees understand again why we're doing this," Casey says.

McKinney acknowledges that government leaders could do a better job of nurturing young employees -- not coddling them, but engaging more directly with them to help design a career path and match them with challenges and opportunities for development.


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