Following are excerpts from a new report from the federal CIO Council on a mostly older, highly critical federal IT workforce.
Primary Issue Areas and Drivers of the Future
1. Recruit / Hire: As an increasing number of Federal employees near retirement eligibility, it is essential that Government is able to quickly and efficiently recruit and hire the best IT talent in order to adapt to constantly evolving technologies.
2. Retain: Government will need to offer its IT workforce opportunities for growth, access to cutting-edge technological tools, and rewards for high performance so they will want to continue to serve agency missions and the public good.
3. Reskill: Agency-specific and Governmentwide training opportunities will keep IT workers flexible and adaptable in order to keep up with both the pace of innovation and changes that will continue to disrupt the way we conduct work.
4. Augment: The Federal IT workforce must continue to be supported by agile, flexible groups from both within Government and the private sector, providing surge capacity, access to expertise in cutting-edge process improvements, and emerging or highly specialized technological capabilities.
5. Measure: Without sufficient qualitative and quantitative data, it will be impossible to gauge successes. Opportunities to leverage data will be identified in order to chart the best path forward by providing a focus on measuring alongside each of the other PIAs.
The considerations for each driver of the future can be described as follows:
• Innovation: The increasing pace of technological change is constantly impacting the modern workplace. Recent years have seen changes ranging from the adoption of new programming languages and cloud-based applications to paradigm shifts in emerging technologies, such as robotic process automation and machine learning. Additional training and collaboration opportunities will enable the IT workforce to be flexible enough to adapt to these changes, enabling agencies to execute their missions.
• Mobility: Increased flexibility in all of the PIAs will allow the Federal Government to adapt to the workforce of the future. This includes providing vertical career mobility and rewarding high performers, as well as horizontal career mobility opportunities such as reskilling, detailing, and industry exchange programs.
• Cybersecurity: All IT work requires some degree of security knowledge and protections, from basic sharing of unclassified documents to defending the nation’s most critical IT assets. As such, a skilled and qualified IT workforce is needed to manage an increasingly complex array of security policies and tools to mitigate evolving threats.
• Collaboration: As the world grows increasingly more interconnected, so must the Federal IT workforce. This includes coordinating across agencies and cross-functional teams. With the rise of regional offices and improved telework workforce can now be productive over vast physical distances.
• Agility: The Federal Government needs to adapt and scale its use of technology more quickly than ever before. In addition to utilizing agile development methodology and continuous improvement, processes and procedures must also minimize downtime and be adaptable to changing circumstances and expectations in the workforce.
By considering each of the Primary Issue Areas for the IT workforce and the Drivers of the Future, Federal leaders will have added insights into planning their workforce initiatives. This will ensure agencies have access to the highly skilled and adaptable IT professionals needed to take advantage of new opportunities and tackle the technological challenges of tomorrow.
Characteristics of the Future IT Workforce
One important influence on the workforce of the future will be the individuals that make up the workforce, with incoming generations of workers being more attuned to diversity and inclusion. In fact, 47% of millennials in one survey said they actively look for diversity and inclusion initiatives when considering employment options. The Federal Government needs to take steps to capitalize on opportunities presented by the changing workforce, which will require attracting new IT workers who come from a larger and more diverse talent pool.
The Government also faces a workforce that is increasingly eligible for retirement, making it imperative to bring in younger workers to fill open positions. Only approximately one-fifth of Federal IT workers are under the age of 40 as of 2017. There is an additional challenge in that there may not be as many job openings available to bring in younger workers until older IT workers choose to retire.
Age is not the only consideration the Federal Government faces when it comes to its IT workforce.
Representation of minority groups has continually increased as a percentage of Federal IT workers, closely matching the makeup of the broader Federal workforce. However, the percentage of women in Federal IT positions has dropped in recent years, while the broader trend of women in Federal positions has remained relatively unchanged.
Technology is also changing expectations of individuals in the workforce. Many IT professionals want to use the latest collaborative tools and technologies to work more effectively with their coworkers virtually. This trend should continue in the future, as younger generations are already comfortable sharing ideas seamlessly across the internet.
While Federal workplaces can be hubs of collaboration, cybersecurity concerns will persist, and a balance will need to be achieved. IT workers will need to have access to the best tools and have the freedom to innovate while working in secure environments. Government has already been able to achieve both security and collaboration through open data and open source software standards. This trend should continue to support the IT workforce of the future.
Not only do workers want to have collaborative and secure workplaces, their expectations of where they work are also changing. With the ability to connect remotely across multiple places of work, individuals are seeking to perform work when and where they feel most comfortable. This trend has been witnessed in the Federal space as well, with the Office of Personnel Management reporting the percentage of eligible employees teleworking increased from 29% in 2012 to 51% in 2016. In addition to providing new telework flexibilities, Government can improve its recruiting efforts by engaging with top IT talent where it already exists.
With better technology resources and collaboration tools, individuals could be allowed to stay where they currently reside, rather than facing a potentially disruptive move away from friends and family or higher living costs in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
The Future of Federal Recruiting and Hiring
Federal agencies need to more quickly and easily recruit and hire adaptable IT professionals with a breadth and depth of competencies in order to take on the technological challenges of tomorrow.
This can only be accomplished by identifying and adopting best practices that have been developed across Government and the private sector. Some of these best practices include creating common competency-based position descriptions; recruiting through commercial platforms, job fairs, and hackathons; using a SME-based assessment process; and leveraging direct hiring authorities.
Top agency officials, IT practitioners, and industry leaders all agree that the Government will only meet future IT workforce needs by enacting a more holistic, enterprise-wide approach to reforming the competitive hiring process.
The Future of Federal Retention and Reskilling
Agencies should encourage the best and brightest IT workers to remain in their positions by modernizing IT infrastructure and tools, as well as the Federal performance management and evaluation processes.
Government should also provide an attractive workplace environment that includes opportunities for telework and to be based in regional offices.
Finally, IT career mobility and flexibility should be improved by loosening the GS system’s time and grade restrictions, enabling industry rotation programs, and increasing opportunities for interagency detailing.