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 Federal 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 in 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.

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

Economic downturns 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, director of NAPA's Center for Human Resources Management. Recruiters and IT managers must be flexible in what compensation packages they can offer from one year to the next because the most highly sought-after skills may change from one year to the next. Some research findings from the NAPA panel, which was commissioned by the CIO Council, include the following:

The hiring process for federal jobs is cumbersome. Agencies with greater compensation and hiring flexibility tend to have more success attracting and retaining the IT talent needed. Pay for midlevel and senior-level management is significantly lower in government than in the private sector. The public sector suffers from a less-than-favorable image. People with skill sets to support new technology and legacy systems must be available to agencies. During 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.

Fed buyers could swap jobs

The Procurement Executives Council is preparing to launch a program next month that will allow federal procurement professionals to take short-term jobs in other agencies. The program targets those who want to work on a new project for less than a year to gain new skills and new enthusiasm for their profession.

"The federal procurement profession has downsized and changed," said PEC member Terry Tychan, deputy assistant secretary for grants and acquisition management at the Department of Health and Human Services. "We have to do research combined with quick, high-impact things to help our workforce."

The PEC is also planning a government/industry exchange program among procurement professionals in the public and private sectors. Already, agencies such as the Department of Energy are sending their government employees to industry; however, it will take a change in the law for the reverse to happen, Tychan said March 21 at the FOSE trade show in Washington, D.C.

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