Delays, image hurt IT workforce

The government's cumbersome hiring process and poor public image — not necessarily its relatively low pay — are keeping information technology workers away, members of an IT recruitment and retention workshop said Monday.

Although compensation is an issue in attracting workers, the testing and background checks for potential hires can take months and often result in losing good job candidates, said agency workers attending a National Academy of Public Administration workforce quality conference.

Ira Hobbs, the Agriculture Department's acting chief information officer and one of the workshop's leaders, said he's happy that five new GS-7 workers will begin working in his office this month — but he's unhappy that the hiring process has taken since October.

One workshop participant said that by the time the hiring process is through, potential workers often have lost interest and found employment elsewhere.

The perception of government as slow and bureaucratic also hinders recruitment, and agencies don't have the resources to change that perception, participants said. One noted that when her agency talks with a potential hire one-on-one, recruiting averages actually are quite high. But the agency can't replicate that effort on a larger scale because of a small marketing budget, she said.

Other pitfalls mentioned include:

Limited use of technology tools by agency human-resources offices. A lack of opportunity for IT workers to be creative on the job. Failure to exercise flexible options, such as recruitment and retention bonuses and telecommuting. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Government Management, Restructuring and District of Columbia Oversight Subcommittee, told attendees that overall government workforce retention is in a "crisis" and that the amount of institutional knowledge to be lost through retirement in the next decade will be "staggering."

"Make no mistake: We're running out of time," he said. Voinovich said he plans to write to every Bush administration cabinet officer and every congressional appropriations subcommittee to encourage them to pay attention to workforce management.

He also plans to introduce workforce management reform legislation this year.

Today, workshop participants will identify ways to address the recruitment and retention problems they discussed Monday.

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