Big tech companies have dismissed nearly 50,000 employees as the sector braces for further economic turmoil in 2023. And while the private sector shrinks, public sector recruiters see an opportunity to attract new talent to government IT.
Government leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond are courting recently laid-off tech workers, urging them to give back through public service. But experts with technology recruitment expertise suggest local government IT leaders need to do a better job at sharing how they make an impact if they hope to be successful.
San Francisco Chief Information Officer Linda Gerull is among those hoping to capitalize on the recent round of layoffs by Amazon, Meta and Twitter.
“With layoffs at the door, tech professionals and engineers may be concerned for the future. We welcome you to the San Francisco Department of Technology where you can turn your skills and know-how toward the community good!,” Gerull wrote in a LinkedIn post last week.
The city and county of San Francisco has ramped up its tech recruiting efforts by working with recruitment agencies to broaden its candidate pool, launching a new careers website and encouraging job seekers to create profiles so they can be matched with open jobs.
“The city is always looking to recruit diverse, talented individuals to choose a career in public service,” a spokesperson from the San Francisco Department of Technology told StateScoop in an email. “Our vacancy rate in IT is nearly 21%. This is an opportunity to fill some of those vacancies with people eager to take on an exciting new role.”
Layoffs are affecting tech workers nationwide, and cities as far from San Francisco as Philadelphia are also urging workers to consider public service.
“Like a lot of you, my social media feeds this week have become inundated with people across the country struggling with layoffs in the tech sector, and my message to them is — take the time to heal, and then please consider checking out jobs in your local government! We need you!” Philadelphia innovation director Eliza Pollack wrote on LinkedIn.
Local governments have long struggled to recruit and retain talent. That’s been especially true for tech talent, Pollack wrote.
“Our salaries usually don’t compare, sometimes we have strange rules about where you have to live, and the rumors you’ve heard about some departments still using fax machines are potentially true,” she wrote. “But if you can overlook that, the public sector offers the ultimate opportunity to give back to your communities.”
Better showcasing the impact of government work is something that Peter Loo, CIO for Los Angeles County, and his colleagues are working on to reach a wider pool of job applicants. Public service and the idea of giving back can be compelling to candidates if communicated well, but there are other benefits that make government jobs competitive and attractive, Loo said in an interview.
Government tech jobs offer a lot of variety and opportunities to follow specific interests or work with different departments, Loo said. He also pointed to job stability and benefits like government pension.
Over the past year-and-a-half, Loo said his department has been more active sharing job openings on social media and reclassifying roles to be more closely aligned with industry job titles. Loo said his team has also increased outreach to universities and created more paid internships.
He said the city still has openings, but the strategy is starting to pay off with greater hiring success and diversity of applicants.
The complete package
Younger workers are looking for work-life balance, learning and development opportunities, a hybrid working environment and meaningful work, said Sarah Benczik, Deloitte’s human capital talent leader. While government agencies have some of those qualities, many lag on schedule flexibility and remote-work options.
A recent survey of state chief information security officers found that only about 25% of state IT agencies were using remote work as a tool to attract new talent. The same survey also found the average time to complete a hire was three to six months, much longer than in the private sector, Benczik told StateScoop.
“You’ve got to shorten that process,” she said. “You’ve got to figure out how to get the job in front of people before they can apply, but once they do apply you have got to keep them in the process and get them in the door.”
Give ‘giving back’ a try
For recently laid-off job seekers unsure about government work, volunteering can provide experience while figuring out what to do next, said Jessica Watson, chief experience office and cofounder of U.S. Digital Response, a nonprofit that offers governments pro-bono help to their improve services.
Watson said USDR itself has seen an increase in volunteers following the recent tech layoffs, as well as more government IT leaders asking for help recruiting new talent.
An increase in federal funding from sources such as the American Rescue Plan means that many state and local governments have the opportunity to expand their tech teams, Watson said. But they need to get better at sharing the stories of the unique impact their workers can have, she said.
“I spent almost seven years at Facebook before I left in 2019, and when the pandemic hit, I was one of those people in a transition period trying to figure out my next role,” Watson said.
She said it was then that she raised her hand to volunteer, and she hasn’t looked back.
“Working at a technology company, your impact is often helping the company do well by increasing the time people are spending in an app or increasing revenue,” Watson said. “When I started working in the civic tech space — and I’ve seen this again and again with our volunteers who have been through similar journeys — I saw that the work that I did helped folks stay in their homes because they were able to access emergency rental assistance or access unemployment insurance easier. It just really changed the game for me.”