Mar 28 2016

Tackling the Government’s Tech Worker Shortage

Richard Spires, former DHS CIO, is on a mission to help cultivate tech talent.

Richard Spires spent nearly four years as the CIO at the Department of Homeland Security, managing one of government’s most complex IT environments, and one issue that was always at the forefront was workforce development.

Whether it is developing the employees they have, recruiting talented outsiders or finding contracting companies with first-rate professionals, organizations, including government agencies such as DHS, struggle to maintain a workforce with the proper skills. This is particularly difficult in the technology area, as approximately 500,000 of the nation’s 5.5 million unfilled jobs are in IT.

“The IT skills gap continues to grow,” Spires tells FedTech. “Both government and private industry need IT talent, but there are more jobs than people. That has to change.”

Last October, Spires took on the role of CEO at Learning Tree International, where he helps organizations align business needs, human capital and employee performance in IT.

It’s a daunting challenge but one that must be addressed, given that the cybersecurity industry is expected to need 6 million security professionals by 2019, but, based on current trends, only 4.5 million will have the proper qualifications.

Not only does this hurt organizations, it creates an environment where competition for top talent is fierce and dollar-driven. For government agencies, which usually cannot offer salaries that match those of the private sector, it is increasingly difficult to attract and keep the best cybersecurity talent.

One of Spires’ main initiatives has been helping organizations build robust management systems that align IT departments with government missions. At the heart of this effort are workforce planning and nurturing employees with a learning-based environment that ensures their skills are continually enhanced.

Learning Tree’s Workforce Optimization Solutions increase top executives’ insight into major initiatives, operational processes and organizational resources; help organizations implement a more consistent operational approach with repeatable processes; deploy resources rapidly to the right projects; and raise employee satisfaction.

“There are so many aspects to IT and cybersecurity, but one everyone agrees on is that you need properly trained people that understand the challenges organizations face,” Spires says.

Spires knows these challenges well. He served as CIO at the Internal Revenue Service before moving to the same position at DHS. He also spent a large part of his career in industry, including 16 years at SRA International. He has been an adviser to several companies, so his position at Learning Tree is a natural extension of his work to improve IT organizations’ performance via human capital development and process improvement.

“There is a significant skills gap out there,” Spires says. “Organizations, both inside and outside of government, need to provide their staff with the career paths, professional development opportunities, and the associated training and mentoring to enable people to grow and develop their skills. The reality is, IT and cybersecurity is so important right now that we have to close this skills gap.”

Drawing from his previous experiences, Spires shares that “a CIO is only as good as the people, their skills and abilities, that he or she surrounds themselves with.” Agencies, therefore, need to foster an environment that enables individuals to grow.

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