Managing the IT talent portfolio

Agencies often overlook the importance of having a strategic management plan for one of their most valuable resources: The IT workforce.

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Many federal IT leaders diligently track operational and financial metrics, but current IT talent trends are often missing from their executive dashboards. At CEB, we think IT talent availability is one of the most underappreciated risks in the IT portfolio. It is also a risk that could increase with a high degree of velocity in the next several years due to two factors: challenges in keeping talented IT staff engaged and an unanticipated retirement wave.

Employee engagement

Based on troubling trends in employee engagement, many talented and tenured federal IT workers will likely leave their jobs in the next five years. According to the Office of Personnel Management's most recent Federal Employee Viewpoint (FedView) Survey, employee engagement metrics dropped at almost every agency in 2013, at least in part because of the pressures of sequestration and the need to "do more with less."

Furthermore, CEB's Global Workforce Insights survey of more than 18,000 employees shows that those in the IT field are most at risk of leaving their employers in this type of environment. Specifically, IT employees scored 10 percent higher than average when asked how optimistic they are about their individual job prospects, partly because many IT skills are easily transferrable from one employer to another. Our survey also shows that this optimism causes IT employees to report a lower-than-average intention to stay in their current jobs.

Potential retirement wave.

Many federal human resources managers have been discussing and planning for the retirement of workers over the age of 60. However, three times as many federal IT employees are in their 50s, and those in the 50 to 60 age range could represent a larger succession-planning risk.

Historically, employees in their 50s represented half of federal retirements. Since the recession, more federal workers have chosen to stay in their current roles as the number of job openings in the private sector declined. However, that group of employees could see large retirement spikes in the near future as the economy recovers and private-sector opportunities grow.

Unfortunately, the most talented people are at the greatest risk of leaving. And given the government's tight staffing levels, the departure of only a small percentage of those employees would have an impact on continuity of operations and innovation.

Given those concerns, federal leaders need to be as diligent in measuring key IT talent metrics as they have been about measuring IT spending levels. The FedView survey tracks several metrics that are worthy of attention because they can help proactively assess and address potential talent risks.

IT employees report a lower-than-average intention to stay in their current jobs.

Two key questions track staff engagement: the percentage of employees who are considering leaving their organizations in the next year (which was 31 percent in 2012 and 2013) and the percentage of employees who would recommend their organizations as good places to work (which dropped to a low of 63 percent in 2013).

The FedView Survey also tracks employees' retirement plans. In 2013, the average percentage of government employees who planned to retire in the next five years rose to 25 percent. Given that 47 percent of the IT workforce is 50 or older, agencies need to develop their talent base and position themselves to withstand the looming wave of retirements.

Federal IT leaders must closely monitor the metrics available to them to ensure that their teams are engaged and productive. They should expend as much proactive strategic effort on the management of their talent portfolios as they do on their technology portfolios.

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