Even as their financial outlook improves, a majority of states continue to struggle to staff their technology departments.
A new study released Thursday from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers finds that 86 percent of state CIOs are having difficulty recruiting new employees to fill vacant IT positions, and 66 percent report facing a shortage of qualified candidates.
At the same time, state CIOs expressed concerns about an anticipated wave of retirements, with more than 65 percent of respondents reporting that at least 20 percent of their state IT employees will be eligible for retirement in the next year.
Those states encountering a shortage of candidates also report that the failure to fill those positions has begun to negatively impact their state’s ability to achieve their strategic initiatives.
The new survey details the experiences of every state, except Arkansas and Vermont, in confronting state IT workforce problems, and offers a collection of solutions CIOs are trying.
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, “state budgets continue to improve at a moderate pace after several years of slow recovery in the national economy.”
But, that doesn’t mean budgets are loose enough to allow states to overcome recruitment and retainment obstacles that took root during 2008’s recession, NASCIO said in the report.
One state CIO told NASCIO that the difficulty in finding candidates prompted the state to invest in a recruiter to seek out talent. In addition, that CIO also left certain positions formally open year-round to ensure that potential applicants could always apply.
But even with candidates applying, nearly 92 percent of respondents said the state’s salary rates and pay grade structures presented a significant challenge to attracting and retaining that talent.
State CIOs said it’s nearly impossible to make state service more financially lucrative than a private sector job, but suggested that more flexible work options, leadership development and other incentives might make state IT jobs more alluring.
“Money isn’t everything,” one CIO told NASCIO. “We try to establish a culture that is appealing to employees so that the decision to leave for more money becomes difficult for people.”
The NASCIO report cites a January 2014 Forbes survey that found 64 percent of millennials, or potential state employees age 16 to 35, say making the world a better place is a priority.
Due to that millennial interest in public service, some states are seeking ways to partner with academic institutions to offer internships or other training programs to introduce young people to state service and show how technology skills can benefit state citizens. This partnership also helps states address the difficulties in finding qualified candidates for their jobs.
“We are engaging classes or groups of students to work on real projects and provide them the freedom to think outside the box and come up with a solution,” one CIO said in the report. “This attracts qualified IT staff to the culture we are building.”
Almost 74 percent of respondents said their states were looking into flexible work options in order to retain its IT workforce — something that the Forbes survey said nearly three-quarters of millennials surveyed are looking for.
States are also trying other innovative ways to recruit and retain IT workers, creating new positions or opportunities, for instance, as IT organizations restructure and consolidate.
“IT organizations are focusing on digital engagement, innovation and transformation of government, smaller and faster project development and implementation,” the report said. “These goals have all improved [state] project portfolios.”
Meanwhile, state CIOs told NASCIO in their responses that they’ve established academies and training programs to grow future leaders in the IT arena by training people to be strategic and communicate effectively. The workforce difficulties have also prompted states to use budgets to allow for bonuses and rewards for high-performing IT employees.
“Government still has a lot to do to attract the best IT resources,” one CIO said.