Jun 23 2014

The Government’s Shrinking IT Workforce

CIOs expect up to 70 percent of their staffers to be gone in the next five years, according to an annual survey.

What would you do if more than half of your employees were going to retire or leave within five years?

What plans would you have to fill vacant positions or retain top employees? Would you have a succession plan to get you through a transition of this magnitude?

For federal CIOs, it isn’t a matter of if this will happen, but when, according to the TechAmerica Federal CIO and CISO Survey released earlier this month.

CIOs expect to see 20 to 70 percent of their IT workforce leave in the next five years, the survey notes, and IT departments are not positioned to handle a mass exodus of employees.

IT managers are grappling with an aging workforce that is nearing retirement and a knowledge gap between younger workers coming in and older employees on their way out, said Matthew Kazmierczak, senior director for research and market intelligence at TechAmerica. CIOs cited retirement as the main reason for employees’ anticipated departure.

The survey cites several factors that complicate efforts to attract and retain skilled workers.

“The long waits for hires, the cumbersome processes, and the lack of modern technology only make the other challenges of filling vacancies and planning for turnover more difficult,” the survey states. “Reform is necessary if CIOs are going to meet their goals. Agencies are maximizing the existing flexibilities within their human resource systems and policies.”

Competing for IT Talent

The Office of Personnel Management is partnering with the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to create a governmentwide human resources information technology strategy, according to a January Government Accountability Office report. The goal is to provide OPM and federal agencies with greater visibility of current and emerging skills gaps.

OPM CIO Donna Seymour said at a recent Senate subcommittee hearing that the CHCO Council is working with the federal CIO Council to explain pay and leave as well as hiring flexibilities that are available to agencies.

When asked if the federal pay scale is competitive with the private sector, Seymour said the government has to look at the total compensation package, not just salary.

“There certainly is an opportunity to continue to build the workforce core, and we've done that through a variety of mechanisms,” Luke McCormack, CIO at the Department of Homeland Security, said during the Senate hearing. “I mean the reason why people join federal service is not particularly for the pay. And most of us could go out in the private sector and pursue other, you know, more lucrative opportunities. It's the mission that brings people forward and the opportunity to make a difference that really draws people to the federal workforce.”

Developing IT Career Paths

In its IT Human Capital Strategy, DHS outlines IT career paths that enable the department to “more formally address how new workers can progress along a technical or managerial career track,” according to McCormack’s written testimony. Employees can also rotate to different career fields. DHS is ensuring that core competencies for IT workers are clear and can be mapped to specific career tracks.

Across government, agencies have to ensure their staffs can support a new way of buying and managing IT services in the cloud.

“We're not building that in-house, we're becoming smart buyers,” McCormack said. “And so we're looking forward to our workforce that they can … be a smart buyer and then do proper oversight at these types of capabilities.”