Dec 31 2009

Workforce Challenges

For too many years, IT leaders in government
agencies were so preoccupied with the complex
technology issues they faced that they didn't
devote enough attention to the most critical
component for success: their workers. But,
fortunately, that's now changing.

With the aging baby boomer population approaching
retirement, the government is facing a potential crisis: not
having enough employees to replace the impending flood of
retirees. In 2001, half of all federal government workers—50.3 percent—were 45 years or older, according to a 2002
report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

And the number of older workers is
growing, while the number of younger
workers is declining. In 2003, workers
aged 25 to 44 constituted 47 percent of
the U.S. workforce. By 2012, that
number is expected to drop to 43
percent. During this same period, the
number of workers 45 and older is
expected to rise from 38 percent to
42 percent, according to the Bureau
of Labor Statistics. If recent BLS
projections hold true, by 2012, nearly
one in five American workers will be
55 or older. That's quite a contrast to
1992, when about one in eight
American workers was 55 or older.

For government IT leaders, the
problems with recruitment and
retention are exacerbated by the need
for talented, highly skilled workers and
by stiff competition from the private
sector, which can lure candidates
with enticing benefits packages.

For the past several years, the
federal government has made a
herculean effort to resolve its
workforce challenges. Federal agencies
have made commendable progress, but
they still have "miles to go" before they
can even think of sleeping. Succession
planning is an important step toward
further progress.

The Office of Management and
Budget is requiring agencies in their
annual performance outlines to identify
plans for employee training and
professional development in order
to cultivate future agency leaders,
according to a recent report by the
General Accounting Office. In addition,
the Office of Personnel Management
is playing a key role by creating a
leadership development program to
assist agencies in training and
developing next-generation managers.

During a Congressional hearing last
fall, a handful of agencies—including
the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), NASA and the Veterans Affairs
Department—were highlighted as
leading the charge for succession
planning in the federal government.

The EPA, for example, developed an
innovative and successful internship
program. Of the 191 interns EPA hired
in the past six years, 90 percent were
retained as full-time workers, providing
the agency with an infusion of young
talent. EPA also initiated a leadership
training program that recruits, trains
and mentors workers along their career
path to becoming senior-level managers.

For employees who are already
senior-level managers, EPA developed
a "mobility" program to let senior
staff manage other departments.
The strategy, which is a smart one,
accomplishes two goals: The transfer
refreshes the executive, who may
have held the same position for many
years; and the agency gets a more
well-rounded leader.

This work is certainly commendable.
However, many more federal agencies
need to follow in EPA's footsteps, or they
will risk losing talented workers to the
private sector. It is essential for
government IT leaders to collaborate
with agency human resources staff now.
They also must develop viable
succession plans, as well as leadership
training for both current and future
employees—and they must do it now.

Creating the Right Environment

Individuals today are much more
selective than their baby boomer
counterparts when choosing a career
path or job. That selectivity makes it
critical for federal agencies to offer
competitive packages, attractive work
environments and career advancement
programs that encourage workers to
consider careers in the public sector.

There are some immediate steps
that IT leaders can take to create a
work environment that makes
people want to come to work, do
their jobs well—and stay. But they
need to start the process now.

First, it's important to have a sense
of mission. It gives employees a goal to
work toward, a sense that their jobs
have meaning. For example, those in
the military are protecting the country,
while Health and Human Services
employees are working to improve the
quality of life for all citizens.

It's also essential to provide an
atmosphere that makes it enjoyable for
people to come to work. That's what
we strive to do at CDW·G—and it pays
dividends. Earlier this year, our parent
company, CDW, was ranked 11th in
Fortune magazine's annual list of the

"100 Best Companies to Work For."

And don't forget to celebrate your
staff's accomplishments. After
employees set and meet goals, you
should reward those who work hard
and produce desired results.

A key aspect of this involves
encouraging teamwork and building
good relationships between managers
and employees. If you provide a
nurturing environment, people will
rally around you and work hard.

Managers also need to empower
their staffs by pushing decision-making
down within the organization. They
should value employee ideas and let
staff members "invent" their jobs
by giving them the leeway to make
improvements and suggestions.

It's also important to provide a career
ladder. The way to strengthen loyalty
is by giving employees the training,
professional development and job
opportunities they crave to improve
themselves and to advance in their
careers. You must promote from within,
and promotions should go to the most
dedicated, talented employees.

Implementing strong ethical
standards is another important step in
creating a productive, attractive work
environment—and it's an arena in
which government can shine.
Guidelines for employees are essential.
For example, if ethical dilemmas arise
at CDW·G, we urge employees to err
on the side of caution in order to avoid
any misunderstandings, wrongdoing
or potential legal liability.

To survive in the 21st century,
government IT shops need an
effective, dedicated workforce. To
recruit and retain such a force
requires leadership, the ability to
inspire workers and the right tools—from mentors to training.


In 2001, 50.3 percent of all
federal government workers
were 45 years or older,
according to a 2002 report by
the Nelson A. Rockefeller
Institute of Government.

In response, the public
sector is taking steps to
recruit and retain talented
employees to replace workers
who will be retiring in the next
several years.

Here's how some organizations
replenish their workforce.

1. Identify plans for employee
training and professional
development in order to
cultivate future leaders.

2. Develop an internship
program to ensure a continuous
flow of talented younger workers
into the government. Of the 191
interns the EPA hired in the past
six years, 90 percent were
retained as full-time workers.

3. Develop a mobility program
for senior-level staff members
to give them the opportunity
to manage other departments.
This helps develop well-rounded leaders.

4. Hire referrals. Of the 21,595
job applications CDW·G received
last year, one-third of the 226
people hired were referrals.
Current employees know what
characteristics their employer is
seeking in a new hire.

5. Empower employees. By
pushing decision-making down
within an organization, staffers
gain a sense of ownership, and
that gives them leeway to
make suggestions and