5 ways governments can attract and retain tech talent

One overlooked aspect of the 2021 Jobs and Infrastructure Investment Act, which allocates nearly $100 billion to improve digital infrastructure, is how it has affected the country’s tense tech talent market. With provisions to expand broadband networks, electric car charging stations, and cybersecurity, the law reflects the culmination of bipartisan federal interest in improving digital oversight — but it is up to state and local governments to implement the programs needed to ensure meaningful policy is implemented. As the operators of most infrastructure projects, state and local governments will need to hire more digitally skilled workers to realize new infrastructure initiatives.

It could prove to be a difficult task. Competition for the best and brightest tech talent is fierce, and as digital skills become more valuable, state and local leaders have struggled to hire these talents and compete with the private sector. Today’s labor shortage compounds the challenges the government faces in winning the race for talent.

Government leaders need to think creatively to fill the roles needed to support digital infrastructure upgrades and systems. To expand their pool of technical talent to prepare themselves for success in new infrastructure projects, local and international administrators and CIOs can start with the following strategies:

1. Refine the skills of your existing workforce

Nearly two-thirds of managers are skeptical about their employees’ ability to keep up with future skills needs with the rapid development of technology, and 70 percent of workers say they have not kept pace with the skills needed for their current roles. Meanwhile, nearly half of workers report that employers have reduced learning opportunities during the pandemic. Consider setting aside funds to retrain team members and improve their skills either by creating a new training structure or working with external skills programs.

But choosing not to raise skills can have serious consequences. Even with the massive development of state and local governments to provide essential products and services digitally, many are still left behind. The pandemic exposed many of these shortcomings, such as when the New Jersey government went into a panic as its systems, which were built on a 40-year-old COBOL-based mainframe, were quickly overshadowed by unemployment applications during the pandemic. This problem could have been mitigated either by keeping employees working knowledge of COBOL or investing in digital transformation to maintain and update these systems.

2. Adopt an agile project mindset, especially with employees

Agile project management, such as focusing on iterative delivery of value and implementing continuous feedback, increases efficiency and improves project performance. With the growing popularity of this method, companies realized that it was applicable outside of information technology and started to adapt it to their own industries. But flexible thinking does not only apply to physical projects such as infrastructure maintenance. Make adaptation to agile principles more effective by hiring or training talent with the agile framework already in mind.

Some of the key hiring trends for 2022 already include agile principles such as focusing on the process rather than the product and making sure employees feel they can develop existing skills while also learning new ones. The tendency for this will foster a culture of collaborative problem-solving that will continually reduce the digital divide.

3. Focus on organizational vision

As the workforce ages, recruiters have to rethink ways to attract new workers. Younger employees value the company’s beliefs and vision. More than half of employees are open to leaving their organizations, but that changes when companies have a positive impact on the world. Only 7 percent of employees who strongly believe that the vision of the organization nurtures a greater interest are actively looking for a different job.

Switch your language to be more focused on tasks. Local governments need to fight the perception that government work is boring and instead advance the meaningful work they do for the community. Pour into your employees, and you’ll see those efforts come back in greater numbers.

4. Take advantage of mixed work environments

Allowing remote work does not reduce production — 70 percent of federal employees said remote work increased their productivity. Having adaptable workspaces encourages employees to continue wherever they work more efficiently. This can also solve site issues. If you’re having trouble attracting new talent in your area, broaden your search by allowing telecommuting, especially when targeting younger workers.

Even if the remote doesn’t just work for your government duties, consider a hybrid environment. Between 30 percent and 40 percent of our workforce can now operate in hybrid conditions, and structuring your organization to operate within that will increase worker productivity, mental health, and workplace bonds. Additionally, hybrid workers report less fatigue than employees who work remotely or fully.

5. Rethink your services to be ‘digital first’

The demand for online services has increased throughout the pandemic. Adopting a “digital first” mindset will better serve citizens and attract new talent eager to be part of the future of work.

Additionally, “digital first” means proactively addressing cybersecurity concerns that may arise with the growth of remote work and digital services. Don’t wait until the breach is over to start implementing safer digital practices. Data breaches increased by 68 percent from 2020 to 2021. Make sure your digital security team is educated and skilled to prevent it from becoming part of that statistic.

Between a major resignation and ongoing adjustments to the supply chain, governments at the state and local levels have more responsibility than ever to update the culture of their workforce. These are opportunities as much as they are challenges. But the digital world is evolving regardless of whether we are ready. Don’t let your skill gaps grow with it.

Jeff Mazur is the CEO of LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization that aims to bridge the tech talent gap by matching companies with trained individuals. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Global Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode was recognized for expanding its “tech workforce by providing free coding education to underserved job seekers.” Jeff lives in St. Louis with his wife and two daughters.

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