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4/26/2010
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Federal CIOs Urge Changes To Entice IT Workers

The government faces big challenges in hiring and retaining young IT pros to meet staffing and evolving technology goals.

The federal government's CIOs are pushing agencies to adopt new workplace practices or else face a tough time recruiting the best minds of the next generation of workers and meeting ever-evolving federal IT needs.

The report, "Net Generation: Preparing for Change in the Federal Information Technology Workforce," surveyed federal IT workforce trends and found that young IT workers are among the most demanding employees yet, but that the federal government, in many places, has been falling short in its ability to entice these young workers to join and remain in the federal workforce.

These challenges come at a time when the future of the federal IT workforce is uncertain. The report, which was headed up by Department of Defense deputy CIO Dave Wennergren, found that 63% of the federal IT workforce is older than 45 years old and that retirements loom large. "There is a great potential for a cascade of retirements over the next decade," the report said.

At the same time, the report noted, those aged between 17 and 44 years old are significantly unrepresented in the federal IT workforce when compared to the general population. According to the report, the government will need skilled workers to maintain many of the government's aging legacy applications. As demand for and introduction of new technologies continues to increase with the forward march of Moore's Law, the IT talent pool is shrinking. Fewer students graduate with IT degrees than the job market needs, and the government has trouble paying the most demanding young employees what they might think they can earn in the private market.

"'Net-Geners' are not patiently working their way through the organizational hierarchy, but are instead sampling professional opportunities and moving on quickly when they see no clear-cut advantages, personally, professionally, or financially, to staying," the report said. "As a result, many organizations are experiencing the loss of younger workers before they can recover their recruitment investment."

The report found several keys to transforming the federal IT workforce to meet the needs of young workers. For example, the report recommended IT leadership work "actively and openly" with teams to facilitate a trusting and empowered working environment. The report urged regular assessments, as it found that young workers are constantly looking for feedback. It also said that performance awards -- whether cash awards, additional time off, or recognition for innovation -- should become a rule for excellent work, rather than the exception. In addition, that means increased on-the-job training.

Another key to attracting and keeping young IT pros in the government is technology itself. "The Net Generation understands intuitively the power of Web 2.0," the report said. "The deprivation of connectivity to the Internet has a visceral impact on the Net Generation." That means agencies must strive to adopt the latest social media technologies to help accommodate the working styles of young IT workers, and that agencies need to look more strongly to the possibility of telework.

The report pushed managers to give young workers early responsibility. "Younger, more technically savvy workers who demonstrate the ability to interject greater efficiency through technological solutions can provide training on these capabilities," the report said. It also urged some changes to the hiring process, such as improving partnerships between agency IT leadership and agency human resources leadership.

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