Jan 06 2020

Which IT Skills Are Most in Demand in Federal IT?

A recent survey found that the greatest demand over the next two years will be for workers skilled in cloud, AI, data analysis and enterprise engineering.

In addition to IT modernization and data, accountability and transparency, the President’s Management Agenda, released in March 2018, cites creating a federal workforce for the 21st century as a driver of transformation in government. 

Specifically, the PMA states that the workforce for the 21st century “must enable senior leaders and front-line managers to align staff skills with evolving mission needs.” To do so, federal agency leaders will need to support “more nimble and agile management of the workforce, including reskilling and redeploying existing workers to keep pace with the current pace of change.”

The government has focused on cybersecurity reskilling efforts and will soon move on to data science programs. But what are the skills that federal IT leaders say they will need in the near term? 

According to a recent survey conducted by WorkScoop and FedScoop, the greatest demand for IT skills in government over the next two years will be for workers skilled in cloud technologies, artificial intelligence, data analysis and enterprise engineering. However, agencies anticipate significant demand for a wide range of other more traditional IT skills.

The survey asked 236 CIOs and IT leaders in the federal IT community about the government’s IT talent needs and the steps they’re taking to meet them. The survey questions were developed in consultation with top leaders of the Federal CIO Council and the Federal CHCO Council.

The survey found that 7 in 10 government IT leaders view a continuing IT skills gap as having a high or medium impact on the ability to deliver on agencies’ missions.

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Cloud, AI Top List of In-Demand IT Skills

The skills gap across federal IT is an urgent issue. While half of government IT managers surveyed have analyzed and told their agency leadership about anticipated IT skills gaps in the next two years, only 16 percent have estimated the direct and hidden costs associated with those gaps, according to the survey. 

In trying to bridge agency IT skills gaps, the survey found that upskilling (51 percent) and reskilling (44 percent) have proven to be the most successful methods, along with outsourcing work to contractors (53 percent) and partnering with IT vendors (42 percent)

The biggest hurdles to acquiring new skills, the report found, are a lack of budget resources (53 percent) and time to take training courses (50 percent).

Government sector IT leaders foresee the greatest demand over the next two to three years for workers skilled in cloud networking and engineering (61 percent), cloud application development (53 percent), AI (49 percent), data analysis (47 percent), enterprise architecture and engineering (40 percent), and DevOps (39 percent). 

However, survey respondents say that they also anticipate significant demand for those who can support user experience design (34 percent), software development (32 percent), maintaining legacy systems (28 percent), the Internet of Things (31 percent) and data center networking and engineering (25 percent).

Aside from technical skills, the survey found that agencies are looking for IT talent with soft skills such as communication (58 percent), critical thinking (56 percent) and people management skills (41 percent), or would benefit from candidates who possessed broader interdisciplinary backgrounds such as data science (49 percent) and business or economics (46 percent).

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How to Close the Federal IT Skills Gap

To close the IT skills gap, the report on the survey concludes, agency IT leaders need to “articulate the mission impact of IT talent shortages.” 

Agencies regularly evaluate their risks and resource requirements, but IT leaders need to do more to “help leadership understand the hidden mission costs and lost operational savings arising from IT talent shortages.” 

IT leaders must also create a clearer vision for developing tech talent. “Agency leaders need to give current and prospective employees a clearer idea of the kinds of IT skills the agency plans to invest in,” the report says. 

IT leaders need to refresh job titles and work benefits. “The IT job market is evolving as quickly as technology itself,” the report says. “Agencies need to align their job titles and requirements with marketplace descriptions that resonate with a younger generation of IT specialists — and give current employees a sense that there’s room to grow their skills in government.”

Employees also need to be given time to time to upskill and reskill. “Current and prospective employees want to work where they can continually upgrade their skills,” the report says. “Agencies can appeal to that desire by giving them more time, resources and opportunities to upgrade or recast their skills.”

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