CIO Council to try to deepen the pool of IT workers

Ask the CIO with Darren Ash and Richard McKinney

wfedstaff | April 18, 2015 3:03 am

When it comes to hiring technology workers, federal agencies aren’t necessarily struggling with the time it takes to bring someone into the government. Rather, a new survey from the Chief Information Officer and Chief Human Capital Officer’s councils shows most agencies are finding the pool of candidates to choose from is too shallow.

“We know historically we get a large number of applicants for these types of positions. But what we do know and what we have been hearing form our counterparts is, are we getting the right, well-qualified individuals? Are we getting enough of those? Is it a strong diverse pool of candidates that we can select from? I think at least from the data, there are some struggles,” said Darren Ash, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s CIO and co-chairman of the CIO Council’s Workforce Committee. “I think it’s [not having] enough of the well-qualified, the experiences and skills that we are trying to hire. There is a great deal of talk about digital services, are we getting enough of those candidates on our cert lists to be able to select from. I don’t think we are getting enough.”

Darren Ash and Richard McKinney, the co-chairmen of the CIO Council’s Workforce Committee
The survey found about 75 percent of the respondents say they couldn’t recruit the necessary talent to do mission critical work.

Richard McKinney, the Transportation Department CIO and the other co-chairman of the committee, said the respondents also say the agency human resources staffs do not have the skills to address the IT personnel needs in government.

“We are not laying this problem on their doorstep … If our HR [staff] needs help from us to be able to do these assessments better, then that’s really beholden upon us to partner with them,” McKinney said. “That’s not us being critical of them, saying you should have these skills. If there are things that we believe need to be considered in that process and we are the ones in possession of that knowledge, we need to figure out how to partner with them to be able to team up so we can bridge those gaps.”

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Heading to IT boot camp

The Workforce Committee, which Ash and McKinney said they are revitalizing, will use this survey to kick-off a number of initiatives in 2015.

The first came from Tony Scott, the federal CIO, when he announced the IT Solutions Challenge on March 4.

McKinney said the Workforce Committee will follow that up with its first IT Shadow Day for local college students coming this April. He said the council has sponsored a similar event for high school students, but this is the first one aimed at the college level.

Later this summer, McKinney said the committee will sponsor a CIO Boot Camp.

“We are going to expand it to be a larger gathering not just for CIOs, but for staff too,” he said. “We are planning multiple tracks over the course of a day or two. The workshops will focus on the new skills professionals need and other important changes in the IT community. We hope to expand it and that it will be something that we do every year.”

The workforce survey, however, will underlie much of the committee’s plans for this year.

Ash said the goal of the unscientific survey was to move beyond anecdotes to find what’s working and what’s not, and determine what new authorities are needed to improve how agencies bring technology workers on board.

Ash said the respondents were a good mix of CIOs, deputy CIOs, human resources specialists and Chief Human Capital Officers.

This was the first workforce survey the CIO Council did since 2011. But Ash said that survey was a lot different because it looked at IT skills and what are the gaps across the government.

“We will do another survey. The next survey we will do later this year is going to be important because we will be marrying that information with the hiring survey and we know that since 2011 the landscape has changed,” Ash said. “The types of skills that we need in some areas have changed. Data architecture, data analysts, cloud, cyber, digital services, agile development, there’s a whole litany of things we need more of because it’s being demanded of us to be agile and to do great things for our agency’s mission. We also need a sense of what we do have as a federal government, do we have the right skills and do we have enough of them?”

Roadmap to improvement

McKinney said the survey also will serve as a baseline for hiring needs and help the committee identify and address specific hiring issues.

“We’d been hearing sort of anecdotally if you will that sometimes these hires take a particularly long time. And then we’d hear other folks saying that wasn’t the case for them,” McKinney said. “One of the things that that stood out for me when I looked at the survey the first time that there was a variance between the people who had the quickest result for the hiring process and the people who took more time. The difference was maybe a little more than I thought. I knew there would be a high and a low, but I didn’t realize that there would be as big of a distance between somebody getting hires through as short as four or six weeks to someone who was taking many months.”

McKinney said the committee plans to take the questions and challenges the survey revealed to the CHCO Council to figure out how they can improve the time to hire and the quality of candidates IT hiring managers receive from the human resources organizations.

Ash said several agencies are effective in getting the right talent in the door quickly. The committee wants to share those approaches and the hiring authorities or processes those departments are finding success with to others who may be struggling.

“My sense is and my gut, and some of the conversations Richard and I have had with some of our peers is they are using the tools available,” Ash said. “But we also sense that there are other tools they need to get other types of talent in the door quickly, and that was another reason we did the survey. Was there enough data to demonstrate we need help, additional tools or additional authorities to get the critical talent in the door quickly?”

McKinney added that the committee also wants to understand why certain agencies are having more success, maybe it’s because they are writing better position descriptions or getting the word out to a broader audience.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is when a department or agency has a position description that has been very successful for them to figure out a way to share that among agencies so that if I’m trying to fill a similar position, maybe there would be a resource for me to go and find a position description that was used and did a very good job of attracting the right applicants. So we will look at that aspect as well,” he said. “One of the things that we would like to have a conversation with the CHCO community is how can we envision how to improve this process to match speeds with the way the world is moving, especially the way the new workforce likes to hunt for jobs.”

McKinney said one of things the committee would like to explore is how best to use social media for finding candidates.

“I think we see an opportunity for the federal government to do a better job of the training of the folks that you do have because this IT landscape is not holding still and moving on,” he said. “We think we can solve some of our problems with ongoing IT training in these new skills for the workforce we do have.”

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