Jim Shanks is executive vice president and former CIO of CDW.
Dec 31 2009

Facing Up to the Millennials Challenge

Rapidly developing technology plays a huge factor with regard to the government information technology workforce’s capabilities and the qualifications of new people who come on board to replace the core elite as its members age and retire.

But in the process of trying to hire the young people who will make up the next generation of information technology workers, what happens when technology develops so swiftly that the qualifications of these prospective workers — and their interests — essentially become moving targets?

That’s precisely the situation facing federal recruiters as they work to find technology-savvy employees to take us into an exciting but uncertain government IT future.

Making Contact

The issue affects not just agencies but all levels of government. One point that government officials agree on is that they must reach out to the new crop of workers where they “live.”

And that’s primarily online, says Gail Lovelace, chief of human capital at the General Services Administration. “On our Web pages, the GSA recruitment information has been redesigned by a team of employees who recently graduated from college.”

This represents good leverage of the peer knowledge of new employees themselves. Similar thinking factors into the IT hiring strategy of Dan Ross, CIO in Missouri’s Information Technology Services Division.

“You’ve also got to go where the troops are, and that’s why we now have a presence on Linden Lab’s Second Life 3D virtual world on the Web — we’re out there recruiting,” Ross says.

Indeed, the need to find young, would-be techies who represent the future backbone of the government IT workforce is a perpetual prod to think ahead, to think in the context of future technology.

New Tech Order

“Among our huge challenges is that it will be a fundamentally different world” for the next generation of government workers, notes David Wennergren, vice chairman of the CIO Council and deputy CIO at the Defense Department.

Today, government workers thrive on e-mail to communicate and share information. But the Net Generation sees things far differently. It views e-mail, for instance, as an almost outdated technology.

Agencies can take advantage of this knowledge as they develop and upgrade systems by thinking about new communications strategies and tools — as well as new security demands — from the perspective of these future users and managers of government systems.

Wennergren lays it out plainly: “Don’t tie them down to a desk and give them an inbox full of hundreds of e-mail messages. If that happens, we will not be an employer of choice. And it’s not so much about just trying to provide a happy work environment and let them have fun; it’s about giving them the tools to go and create this better future.”

Photo: John Welzenbach