College partnerships are keeping Nebraska’s workforce full

State IT officials around the country say they’re worried of an impending wave of retiring elderly employees that could cripple support for legacy infrastructure and technologies. Not in Nebraska.

In a video interview with StateScoop, Nebraska state Chief Information Officer Ed Toner says workforce isn’t a problem because his office is “constantly” recruiting young professionals.

“If you came to see our workforce, you’d see we don’t have a workforce problem at all. We have partnered very closely with community colleges,” Toner says. “We actually influence their courses. They take agile development because we’re an agile shop.”

Through partnerships with local four-year universities and community colleges, especially Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Toner says the state has managed to hire 50 early-career professionals within the last four years, only two of whom have since left.

“Ten percent of my workforce is under the age of 28. … And they’re staying. They like working for the state, they like working with agile development,” Toner says. “So we’re normally using them in the development space, but also in the infrastructure space. A lot of them have come in, wanted to be a developer, worked with us and then they decided they wanted to move into some other areas, which we encourage.”

The workforce development initiative that began in the technology office could soon prove its ultimate success by winding its way throughout the rest of the state government.

“They are working out wonderful for the state, so we’re trying to get them to go into other agencies and it’s starting to organically grow that way,” Toner says.

Toner on his top priorities:

“Now what we’re really going after is applications. We have a large project, application portfolio management. We’re going out inventorying all our applications.”

Toner on cloud computing:

“We’re finding, much to, I know, against the hype, we’re finding that we’re actually cheaper than the cloud solutions when we’re on-prem.”

Toner on how he sees his role changing with emerging technology:

“Clearly my role is to make agencies understand what’s out there. Now that they don’t really have an IT team, it’s become more of my responsibility to be sure people are aware. So we’re doing open houses.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ midyear conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in May 2019.