Mar 27 2008

Skill Drill

To close up federal technology skill gaps, try these 13 tips based on a survey of 40,000 government IT workers.

Create a whole new work environment. That’s a chief takeaway from the new analysis of federal IT skills released by the Office of Personnel Management and the CIO Council.

“Traditional methods will no longer necessarily apply in recruitment and retention,” the report notes. “More nontraditional arrangements may be needed; examples include the use of flexible work schedules and the use of incentives, such as student-loan repayment and recruitment/retention bonuses.”

The issue of finding and keeping the right tech team resonates with Avi Bender’s view of the federal technology workforce. As the enterprise architecture director at the Internal Revenue Service, he’s heavily involved in cross-collaboration projects and recasting the IT infrastructure at IRS to support service-oriented applications.

“How do we identify the ‘A Team’ and make sure we find the right people with the right skills to do these jobs?” asks Bender, who spoke at a recent AFCEA briefing. He says as a government manager he has no immediate answer to that question.


In this latest assessment, the CIO Council and OPM detail findings based on survey responses from 40 percent of the federal IT workforce, or nearly 32,000 employees. OPM took the snapshot of competencies in late 2006 and then compared it against skill demands in 2007. (The analysis also takes into account data gathered in 2004 and 2005.)

The report team makes 13 recommendations on how agencies can bridge skill gaps in IT jobs:

  • Target recruiting resources on positions where the largest or highest-risk skill gaps exist. Also, create a long-term hiring strategy to deal with retirement losses.
  • Supplement the existing workforce with private-sector expertise in critical functions or for specific skill sets.
  • Improve information exchange between the government and industry to share best practices.
  • Set up special assignments from one agency to another to provide expertise in particular areas.
  • Focus training on competencies and skills recognized as gaps in multiple job activities.
  • Use e-training to create more training options within an agency.
  • Increase the number of people certified in critical areas, such as IT security and project management.
  • Use a knowledge-management system to capture the experience of employees preparing to retire and who support legacy systems.
  • Integrate IT competencies into the agency’s broader personnel practices so employees and managers understand job requirements and performance expectations.
  • Encourage employees to participate in communities of practice around mission-critical job activities.
  • Develop standard tools and templates for use in critical IT functions. 
  • Structure work teams to promote learning and cross-training within the team.
  • Standardize processes so that workers can learn best practices for a particular job function.