Workforce committee pushes new training, recruitment strategies in Tennessee

Tennessee state government is adjusting its policies and strategy both for hiring technology employees to work inside its offices and to train the future workers across the state. 

Gov. Bill Lee announced the state’s first major technology workforce initiative in February, vowing to increase STEM education opportunities for K-12 students, “making sure our students are first in line to be qualified for technology jobs,” he said upon announcing the initiative.

Those students may one day find themselves applying for work in the state government, but in the meantime, the state is tweaking its own approach to talent recruitment, Stephanie Dedmon, the state’s chief information officer, tells StateScoop in a recent video interview.

“We realize that we probably need to grow our own talent, as opposed to competing for existing experienced talent, because that’s becoming more and more challenging, especially in the Nashville-Middle Tennessee market,” Dedmon says. “So we’re going to more career fairs, really recruiting more from the college campus and maybe even from technical degrees or associates degrees, and then providing the training to develop those employees in the areas that are hard to find, hard to retain.”

To establish its new approach, Tennessee convened officials from around the state in a workforce committee, Dedmon says.

“We had a committee of about 12 or 15 folks really focusing on what are some improvement items for our division and our technology employees,” she says. 

In addition to altering its recruitment strategy, the state is also looking for ways to boost its existing workforce, through new incentives and training.

“We’ve been looking at things like adding to our formal list of job certifications and requesting permission to as people achieve some of the critical and highly sought-after certifications, can we do salary increases?” Dedmon says. “Other things the workforce committee has been looking at is career development and how do we really work with our department of human resources to be very strategic in how we provide career development for our employees.”

Workforce development has become an area of heightened emphasis for all state governments as the level of business knowledge demanded of technology offices has increased and as CIOs have been required to manage a growing portfolio of technologies, from artificial intelligence to hyrbid-cloud infrastructure. An anticipated wave of retirements, a so-called “silver tsunami,” is also pressuring states to quickly find new recruitment channels.

Dedmon on her top priorities and projects:

“One of the things we’re working on is our cloud migration strategy. We haven’t been a cloud-first state but more cloud-smart, so we’re actually working with a vendor partner to understand the tools we have in place, what a hybrid model could look like, what are the cost considerations, how do we evaluate the cost-benefit of moving to the cloud?”

Dedmon on digital transformation and modernization:

“We’ve been working on a central mobile app called MyTN and are much closer to going live with five of our agencies and that’s our objective in providing more and more services online.”

Dedmon on how she sees her role changing:

“Over the next two to three years, we really need to understand those functions that we should continue to own, either from a security standpoint or because we’re better at it.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 2019.