Report: Flexibility key to staffing woes

Early results from a National Academy of Public Administration report show that public- and private-sector organizations have changed their recruitment and retention strategies to cope with a changing and tight information technology labor market.

Based on interviews with public and private officials and on other research and reports, the NAPA panel found that compensation and other human resources management programs must be "sufficiently flexible" to meet current and future IT workforce needs.

"This is a real issue, and it's growing in its magnitude," said Ira Hobbs, acting chief information officer at the Agriculture Department and co-chairman of the CIO Council's IT workforce committee. "It isn't something we made up that's just [a problem] inside the Beltway."

Interestingly, the research shows that pay isn't the most important factor when it comes to attracting IT workers.

"People we interviewed said they felt the quality of the workplace and excitement of work is much more important than just the financial impacts," said G. Edward DeSeve, managing partner at American Government Management, and a NAPA panel member.

"Once pay is within the competitive range, it does not play a major role in attracting and retaining IT talent," said Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc. and chairman of the NAPA panel. Good management and a good work environment are more important, he said.

Downturns in the economy don't solve the IT worker shortage. "There is still such a difference [between] the growth in IT jobs and who is coming into the IT workforce," said Myra Shiplett, center director at NAPA. "We don't see [that] economic changes will solve the problem."

Some of the research findings from the NAPA panel, which was commissioned by the CIO Council, include:

The federal hiring process is cumbersome. Agencies with greater compensation and hiring flexibility tended to be more successful in attracting and retaining the IT talent they need. Mid-level and senior-level management pay is significantly less in government than the private sector. The public sector suffers from a less than favorable image. Skill sets to support new technology and legacy systems must be available to agencies. In contrast to agencies, companies think in terms of short-term arrangements and seek the talent when they need it. Recruiters and IT managers must be flexible in what compensation package they can offer from one year to the next since the most highly sought-after skills may change from one year to the next. Agencies that have provided developmental programs and quality-of-life programs such as teleworking have had much success. Over the next few months, the NAPA panel will analyze the research, provide alternative solutions and ultimately make recommendations. The group plans to release a final report this summer.

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