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States, Municipalities Desperate For IT Workers

A Gartner survey indicates that state and local governments face a critical IT staffing shortage, mostly because of pay discrepancy and lack of specific in-demand skills.
It turns out there are some IT openings after all. Despite the recession and layoffs that have put hordes of skilled IT professionals on the street, a survey released Thursday by research firm Gartner indicates local and state governments are still struggling mightily to recruit and keep qualified IT staff. In its survey of 28 states and 40 of the nation's largest cities and counties, four out of five municipalities and nearly 90% of state governments say they face a critical staff shortage.

Inadequate compensation was the main concern cited, which isn't surprising when comparing the salaries and benefits of public-sector IT workers with that of their private-sector peers. According to InformationWeek's National IT Salary Survey of 24,700 respondents, the discrepancy between pay for public- and private-sector IT employees is significant: Median base salaries for government IT managers was $70,000 while the median pay for an IT staffer was $56,000. That's well behind the median of $82,000 and $60,000 paid to private-sector IT managers and staffers, respectively.

Jan Grecian, deputy CIO for the state of Missouri, says the employment situation for the state's IT department has stabilized somewhat over the last six months, but the shortage of talented IT workers remains critical. The state agency, headquartered in Jefferson City, previously competed with local employers, such as Maytag Corp. and Scholastic Inc., as well as those in nearby St. Louis and Kansas City, in attracting and retaining IT professionals. Grecian says there are more qualified IT pros on the market, but not all of them have the skill sets she needs, such as security.

And the problem figures to get worse: Half of the agencies will have significant numbers of staff retiring within five years, but many of them report that they still have no workforce plan in place. Gartner recommends that government CIOs and human-resources execs develop strategies to hire and keep qualified workers. If the economy continues to decline, they may find some skilled IT professionals willing to take lower-paying public-sector jobs. But unless government agencies become more competitive, they'll likely lose new hires to the private sector once there's a turnaround.