Solving the federal IT workforce problem

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) argues that potential answers to the federal government’s IT workforce gap lie in expanding youth programs and partnerships between public and private sectors.

Will Hurd
 

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) wants ideas for expanding the cyber workforce.

Could the talent gap in the federal IT workforce be bridged by better partnerships between the public and private sectors?

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) thinks so.  Improving the IT talent in the federal government "will require a focus on STEM and IT education of our young people," Hurd said at a Sept. 22 congressional hearing on the topic. "This is the one thing I've heard consistently is a problem…. Where will the talented IT workforce come from?"

Joan Ferrini-Mundy, the National Science Foundation's assistant director overseeing education and human resources, pointed out creative programs her agency is pushing to attract IT workers.

She described NSF's CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program, which has graduated over 2,000 IT specialists and includes 62 active institutions educating over 600 students. Ferrini-Mundy stated that the overall placement rate of SFS graduates in government is 94 percent, with students moving on to work in the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and others.

She pointed out that NSF also runs an Advanced Technological Education program, which focuses on two-year college programs.

The students who graduate from these programs are "very excited as they enter the federal government," Ferrini-Mundi said. "We know that they're welcomed into the federal government warmly… We are trying to see how long they stay [in the federal government], but their entry is very quick and smooth, and they're quite in demand."

Hurd noted that he "was a beneficiary from an NSF program… that got me excited about computer science," adding that he was "a big fan" of the NSF's work in this territory.

Hurd said expansion of these programs -- and the creation of others -- was necessary. "I want to make sure more kids like me have access" to creative programs that expose students to both the government and computer science at a young age, he said.

He also pointed out that government needs to provide IT specialists with better tools than the outdated systems currently in place, and to come up with ways to better compensate prospective workers.

Hurd also raised the idea of the government's establishing of a "cyber national guard," which would finance students' specialty educations in exchange for a certain number of years of government service, as an alternative path for scholarship repayment.

"As a federal government, we should not be making it hard for IT experts to serve their country," he said.

And with both government and industry in need of talented IT workers, Hurd suggested the two sectors take a mutually beneficial approach. "I envision… we are ultimately having a cross-pollination of skillsets between the public and private sector" that encourages collaboration between government and industry, he said.

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