Survey reconfirms IT staffing woes

Preliminary results from a special study of information technology salaries

in the federal government show that agencies are having almost as much trouble

retaining IT workers as they are recruiting them.

The Office of Personnel Management received about 39 agency responses

to its memorandum asking for IT staffing data and is analyzing the results.

Based on initial results, OPM found that "recruitment problems rated only

slightly more severe than retention problems," said an official in OPM's

Pay and Leave Administration Division, who spoke on background.

The preliminary data showed there is no significant difference in the

average ratings of recruitment and retention problems by specialty or work

level within the IT sector, the OPM official said.

OPM initiated the study of the salaries of government IT workers earlier

this year, at the request of agencies that were asking for additional pay

flexibility to recruit and retain IT workers. In May it sent out a memo

to agencies asking them to provide data and views related to the IT staffing

situation.

The memo asked for staffing, turnover, vacancy and quit rates for IT

employees primarily in the GS-334 position, which is the computer specialist

position.

However, the study also includes other IT-related series of jobs. OPM

asked agencies to rate the severity of their IT staffing problems based

on each specialty and geographic area.

Perhaps not surprisingly, OPM found that agencies have more trouble

recruiting and retaining systems and software engineers and information

systems security personnel than they do customer support personnel. San

Francisco and Washington, D.C., ranked among the areas where agencies have

the hardest time recruiting and retaining IT staff.

OPM plans to use the results to develop a special salary schedule or

schedules for IT personnel in the government. It's possible that OPM will

execute the change in two or more stages starting this fall, which will

allow it to address the greatest needs first, according to the OPM official.

However, it is still unclear what positions and locations will be included.

There is little disagreement that there is an IT workforce crisis in

government, and better compensation will go a long way toward alleviating

the problem. But although compensation is important to attract and keep

people, other issues, such as training programs and employee/supervisor

relationships, are just as important, according to Fred Thompson, program

manager for IT workforce improvement at the Treasury Department.

It will likely take a combination of actions to solve the government's

IT workforce shortage, Thompson said.

"We need to set some targets, try to pull together subject matter experts,"

he said. Describing IT occupations in government better will help agencies

determine where the needs are. Until recently, the federal IT workforce

has been stable, Thompson said. But this is changing as the demand for IT

workers grows and supply stays low.

The country will need 1.3 million new core IT workers by 2006, but not

enough people are graduating with the skills needed to meet the demand,

Thompson said.

In addition, about half of the federal IT workforce will be eligible

for early retirement starting around 2006, and replacement numbers are low.

And the skills set is changing, with fewer unique applications, more hardware

and software consistency, and allegiance to a specialty vs. an employer.

This results in more worker mobility, Thompson said.

"We're in a very different environment," he said. "People can move from

public to private more easily than you could [before]."

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