As governments at all levels become ever more dependent on information technology, it's no secret that it is becoming harder and harder to attract talented IT workers. We've arrived at this painful juncture for three main reasons: First, there is a general national shortage for those with technology degrees and experience. Second, the experienced IT workforce government does have is beginning to retire in large numbers, not only leaving open seats but also taking their institutional knowledge with them. And third, government is simply being out-hustled by the private sector.
Public leaders need to recognize where their governments and agencies fit within the larger job market -- especially within the information-technology field -- and begin to think and act innovatively to help ensure that their initiatives and services not only operate but do so securely and in ways that fit with what constituents expect.
Visit any career fair, any college career center, any workforce-development center and you'll find plenty of companies making connections, establishing long-term organizational relationships and simply meeting candidates where they are. Now, showering candidates and students with free stressballs and logo-embossed pens is obviously not going to close the yawning talent gap that government faces overnight, but it is going to tell prospective hires something else: We're stepping up our game and we want you to give us a chance.
Of course, if you run the numbers -- salary, benefits and even debt repayment -- the private sector is going to win out, but the public sector, if it thinks innovatively, can leverage its unique strengths, just as the city of Boston, Georgia's county commissioners' association and the state of New Jersey have.
In Boston, city leaders have invested in finding IT talent early with paid internships and fellowships for students that not only give them a résumé boost but also first-hand experience in creating innovative solutions for municipal problems. In Georgia, the county commissioners' association has placed closed to 200 interns in 50 counties, focusing on all disciplines in hopes of opening minds to government service. And New Jersey has a Commission on Science and Technology to not only encourage university and private-sector engagement but also to help apply innovative ideas to specific state issues and to attract talent through fellowships, technology incubators and business accelerators.
Many would argue that these programs do not go far enough. The opportunity to streamline and speed up the government hiring process and freshen up public-service job announcements is one that is ripe for the picking, and innovative ideas such as public-to-private-sector fellowships can help to bring in the methodologies and techniques honed in the marketplace.
While public employment certainly has had its setbacks during the fiscal crises, the public sector needs the next generation, with its spirit of connectivity and technological savvy, to consider careers in government, and then to invest in those who do answer the call. Fellowships and internship programs are a good place to start. Initiatives like these come with a cost, but the costs of failing to take the steps needed to build a high-quality technology workforce are certainly going to be much higher.