CIOs Fear Mass Exodus of Government IT Workers

States are not only anticipating a wave of retirements but also trouble filling the vacancies. How are they preparing?

When New York state Chief Information Officer Maggie Miller testified in February before the state legislature, she warned lawmakers of a looming IT staff crisis. Within the next few years, she said, her agency expects to lose 25 percent of its staff to retirement. As those retirements unfold, they will reduce the average level of experience for senior state IT workers from 40 years to 11 years.

New York is not alone. Maine is also facing a mass exodus of its IT workforce. It estimates that 24 percent of IT workers are eligible to retire in the next two years. A National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) report last year found that 40 percent of states expect that between 11 and 20 percent of their workers will be eligible to retire in the next year, while 86 percent found it challenging to recruit new workers to fill vacant IT positions. CIOs also cited a lack of funding for training as one of the top three impediments to developing, supporting and maintaining IT services, according to the survey. 

State technology agencies are responding to the problem in several different ways, including hiring human resources directors who specialize in IT recruitment, developing internship programs to generate interest among young people and investing in training programs.

Colorado’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) faces the dubious task of trying to recruit new workers when unemployment in the IT field is at a very low 2.4 percent in the Denver region. “Just about everyone who wants a job in technology has one,” says Karen Wilcox, director of human resources at OIT. With the state unable to match private-sector salaries, recruiting workers to fill retiree and new slots isn’t easy. 

Wilcox has shelved the old recruitment strategy known as “post and pray” in favor of more proactive approaches, such as widening candidate pipelines by seeking out IT workers through, for example, social media, software developer meet-ups and internships. The latter, in particular, is one way to engage future candidates who may still be in high school but want to learn about technology and the public sector.

Attracting IT workers in a red-hot tech market also calls for creative branding, says Wilcox. “We promote working at OIT by telling prospective candidates that we do important work. It isn’t boring work.”

OIT uses metrics to track how quickly it takes to fill positions -- the average is 45 days, though more senior positions can take longer -- and to measure job satisfaction. Colorado has also added training and development into the mix to keep IT skills up to date. “It’s a hot-button issue [that we need to] keep as current as possible,” Wilcox says.

Tod is the managing editor of Governing and the contributing editor of our sister publication, Government Technology. He was previously the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for IT executives in the public sector, and is the author of several books on information management.