IT is changing the way people in government do their jobs, the way citizens interact with their government and the way the government protects itself from threats. Managers and human resource specialists say the way the government finds and trains workers to carry out those tasks must change, too.
As baby boomers head into retirement and the millennial generation steps in to take their place, managers need to recognize their different approaches and styles -- and adapt accordingly.
"The millennials are more dynamic in how they think of where they can add value to their role," said Rick Holgate, CIO at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and president of the American Council for Technology side of ACT-IAC. "All of those employees think of their opportunities in a flexible fashion. From a hiring perspective, unless we can manage that, it will be hard for us to keep up with the pace of the federal workforce."
Often, Holgate said, millennials will come in for three to five years then move somewhere else, either to another agency or the private sector.
Being able to manage that churn and not expect people to be in the same roles for 10-plus years will be the key to managing the future federal workforce, said Dan Chenok, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and chairman of the Industry Advisory Council half of ACT-IAC.
The Presidential Management Fellows and Presidential Innovation Fellows programs have brought a number of talented young people onto the federal payroll. But many of them do not expect to make a career at a single agency, and the PIF program has been redesigned with that in mind. PIFs will now start their fellowships at agencies where they can have an immediate impact, then they might be deployed elsewhere as needed to work on different projects.
The government's willingness to tap into the private-sector talent pool for shorter-term -- but still full-time -- workers in the IT and cybersecurity fields is likely to be welcomed by millennials, Chenok said.
"There is an issue as far as government keeping up its skill set to match best practices of industry," he said. "The ability of government to do that is more about processes for bringing in talent and developing it and adapting the processes of government to tap into those skills and those people who want to come in and provide those services."
Geeks in suits
That's not to say that it's impossible to teach old dogs new tricks or to notice that they knew the tricks all along.
"I think the focus on 'young people' growing up with technology is actually doing everyone a disservice," said Jay Huie, customer services architect at ActioNet. "What's exciting about technology is that age is not necessarily an indicator of one's facility with the topics."
"It's similar to all the excitement lauding how new uber geeks don't have to dress up anymore," he added. "If a suit isn't necessary for a geek to be successful in government, then we shouldn't demonize the inverse -- that those of us wearing suits haven't been successful in transforming government. If the clothes don't make the geek, then we shouldn't care when some of us geeks wear a suit."
Huie said the Office of Personnel Management could catalyze the conversation by releasing more of its hiring and retention statistics.
"For example, we talk about retaining top IT talent, but I suspect that's not a significant challenge," he said. "If we knew how long a new hire stayed in government and [we] conducted exit surveys, it would provide some insight as to whether or not they're driven off by the bureaucracy, salaries or technology deserts -- and how long that took -- or if, in fact, a geek [who] works their way into government tends to stay."