Governments scuffle for IT workers
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Nov 29, 2001
State and local governments and other public-sector groups are having a
tough time hiring and keeping qualified information technology staff despite
a glut of skilled workers looking for jobs in this recession, according
to a new national survey.
Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Conn.-based research and consulting firm,
found that 87 percent of state governments and 80 percent of local governments
will continue to experience a constant, or in a few cases, severe critical
shortage of qualified employees.
"We were surprised by that," said Bill Keller, public-sector research
director for Gartner. "I think that part of it is that governments don't
market themselves very well. I think if you ask [chief information officers]
to list their job responsibilities, many will put retention and recruitment
at the bottom of the list, and I think that's a mistake."
Obstacles include lower salaries compared with the private sector, lack
of bonuses and advancement, poor leadership, and government rules for hiring
and firing employees.
Keller said IT recruits are not used to taking civil service tests to
enter the government workforce, and concurrently, the public sector may
have a difficult time getting rid of underperforming employees.
Compounding the problem are the current economic conditions, shrinking
state and local budgets, and an aging workforce. According to the survey,
54 percent of state agencies reported that 11 percent to 20 percent of their
IT staff members are eligible to retire in five years, and 32 percent cited
that more than 20 percent are eligible to retire. Similarly, 48 percent
of local agencies said 11 percent to 20 percent of their IT staff is eligible
to retire in five years.
These situations have left governments with a shortage of advanced-level
IT personnel, defined as people with strong technical knowledge, more than
seven years of experience and management skills. To compensate, agencies
have used "external staff" or outsourced projects and contracts, Keller
said. That's not a bad thing if done sensibly, but costs are higher than
if the work is done internally, he added.
To counteract this trend, Keller said state legislatures, executive
branches, CIOs and unions will have to take a broad workforce management
perspective, such as changing human resource procedures and creating incentives
to attract and retain personnel. Some governments — Iowa in particular
— are developing innovative practices, but the future is unclear.
"We're predicting that it'll be a case-by-case basis," Keller said.
"For governments that do develop a workforce management strategy and implement
it, I think things will get better. Those that don't, even if they recruit
better people, they'll leave in no time flat."
A total of 123 government agencies — 68 governments and 55 education
districts — were polled during the summer, just before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Keller said Gartner plans to make this an annual survey, adding that "next
year, it'll be interesting whether this new patriotism will drive more people
to give [the public sector] a try."